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23rd Feb 2023 11:00am Blogs

Journeys to Citizenship Education

ACT’s new research documents how skilled citizenship teachers plan to meet the needs of their students & respond to issues in their local communities

The value of case studies

Books and research articles are full of discussions about what citizenship education is for and whether we can measure its impact, but teachers are also concerned with practical questions about what it might look like in their particular circumstances. Here the main source of wisdom is our colleagues – we might ask friends what they have done in their schools, organise a visit to a local school, or ask an ACT member of staff for advice and inspiration. For the first time ACT has begun to collect this kind of practitioner knowledge in the form of case studies. Our first collection includes detailed curriculum maps for each school, a discussion of how citizenship education has been interpreted to reflect the needs and characteristics of the school, and examples of how specialist staff support their colleagues to deliver the curriculum.

The first four case studies highlight the many ways in which schools are developing citizenship in the curriculum and across the school. They celebrate how teachers can exercise their professional agency to promote the kind of education they believe in, even when policy might be promoting other priorities. We hope they will provide you with inspiration to think about the next stage in your own journey.

Distinct approaches to Citizenship Education delivery

Each case study presented is distinctive because it describes aspects of practice that are unique to each school.  In this blog we offer a snapshot of some of the various strategies that schools can adopt to create an engaging curriculum that is relevant to their pupils connecting with their experiences and interests

At Altringham Grammar school for Girls (AGGS) the core curriculum combines Citizenship; Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE); and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) together across key stages 3 and 4. Citizenship is taught as a discrete, timetabled subject, and each class has a one-hour lesson in every eight-day cycle of the timetable. There is also a GCSE available as an option. As well as being delivered through the school’s taught curriculum, Citizenship learning also takes place through the culture and ethos of the school and through its links with the wider community. A distinctive feature of the school is the pupils’ capacity for self-regulation and a culture of students taking responsibility. Students lead a wide variety of whole school clubs and societies and have also informed revisions to the curriculum, where they wanted teachers to cover specific topics in greater depth. This highlights the relevance of when and what is being taught at times in young people’s lives to secure engagement and motivation.

Brockhill Park Performing Arts College ensures citizenship entitlement for all students in all years, including the GCSE. While this is not a choice for the students, the school curriculum statement justifies this on the basis that it develops ‘the ability to empathise and engage with sensitive emotional topics and understanding of their place in the world, its history, society and its development’. These qualities highlight the wider contribution of Citizenship to the holistic education of the students. Ensuring all students have citizenship lessons means working with a large team of colleagues primarily trained in other subjects. The collaboration and dissemination of expertise within the core team at Brockhill provides a great example of how teachers are the often the best quality resource. Careful delegation of responsibilities between staff who may have more knowledge and experience in certain topics means that subject leaders benefit by sharing the workload, colleagues benefit by sharing their passion and expertise, and the students benefit from resources provided by passionate and well-informed staff.

Leeds City Academy embeds Citizenship in the life of the school as part of the school improvement strategy. The Assistant Principal, Kelly Allchin, says that Citizenship is “not viewed as a standalone subject” but is something that we “live and breathe,” and is “at the heart of everything we do.” Citizenship education is largely taught as part of the Academy’s unique DNA curriculum offering. The DNA curriculum incorporates Citizenship, PSHE and RS into a single timetabled subject that all students attend for one hour per week from year 7 through to year 11. The DNA classroom curriculum is complemented with a variety of structured and aligned cultural activities and themed assemblies. Three times a year, the Academy comes off timetable so that students can participate in a “Cultural conference.” The Academy’s “Reflection and Celebration” Calendar, meanwhile, marks significant dates such as International Democracy and Women’s Rights day, with dedicated assemblies. Students are also encouraged to participate in the Academy’s Student Parliament and leadership programme, which offers a range of participation opportunities.

From the case studies it also emerged that developments to Citizenship provision did not happen overnight and took time to embed. These often-small steps, when implemented and consolidated properly, resulted in very positive outcomes for both the school and its pupils.  For several years at Priory School in Portsmouth, Citizenship and RE have had Subject Coordinators working across the Trust (Bohunt Education Trust) to develop curriculum and assessment frameworks, but now a new post has been created to lead on Personal Development, combining oversight and performance in these areas. This provides a more substantial curriculum focus for the ‘game-changer’ vision across the Trust, which the Director of Education summarises as: powerful ideas + empathy = action. Here citizenship education plays a distinctive role in providing a space where the Trust’s ethos connects explicitly to the curriculum.

What can we learn from case studies?

The lessons learned will be as varied as the readers are varied. We arrive at case studies with our own knowledge, beliefs and context-related priorities. Some of the ideas presented here may resonate with you as possibilities for your own practice, others will not feel feasible. But our intention is that they will help you to think afresh about aspects of your practice, and to consider possibilities for further development. 

About the author

Faiza Hyder

Faiza is part of ACT’s research team that is conducting the Active Citizenship in Schools programme in partnership with Middlesex University. She contributes to the collection, analysis and reporting of data from students and teachers, ensuring all research and evaluation activities adhere to ethical standards. Faiza has a MA in Childhood and Education in Diverse Societies from Middlesex University and has worked as a Primary School teacher in the London boroughs of Barnet and Islington for 10 years.

In her spare time, she enjoys tennis, fashion and music.

Background on this research

The Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) commissioned Middlesex University to undertake research to evaluate its Active Citizenship in Schools programme, which is running from 2021-25. The research programme offers a strategic approach to embed social action and active citizenship within Citizenship and the school curriculum. It aims to identify models and practices that ensure pupils engage in and benefit from citizenship education in a sustained and impactful way. 

For more information about ACT, the Active Citizenship in Schools programme and how to join the National Citizenship Education Study, please visit here: