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About Citizenship

Citizenship education develops knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils need to play a full part in society as active and responsible citizens.

What is Citizenship education?

Citizenship education develops knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils need to play a full part in democratic society, as active and informed citizens. Pupils are taught about democracy, politics, parliament and voting. Additionally they learn about human rights, justice, the law, identies and diversity. Topics such as media and information literacy, climate change and sustainability, financial and economic education and the role of the UK in the wider world are also included.

Real and contemporary issues and case studies in local to global contexts brings Citizenship teaching to life. Political literacy is developed alongside the skills of active citizenship. Pupils take part in different forms of responsible, democratic action such as campaigning.

What must be taught in the UK?

In the UK education is devolved to the separate legislatures and executives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means there are different arrangements in each jurisdiction for Citizenship education and what must be taught.

In England Citizenship is a subject in the school curriculum and teaching requirements are set out in statutory programmes of study in the National Curriculum.  Local and Global Citizenship is a statutory part of the Learning for Life and Work area in Northern Ireland. Whereas in Scotland Citizenship is a non-statutory cross cutting theme with aspects such as democracy taught in an area of learning, Social Studies. While in Wales, Citizenship must be addressed through the four purposes of the curriculum, as a cross-curricular aspect of education embedded in the Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLE) and in particular the Humanities AoLE which encompasses the Social Studies.  Find more information about these arrangements and the work teachers do at the Five Nations Network.

Citizenship National Curriculum in England

Primary schools in England teach Citizenship by following the non-statutory curriculum framework . Published by the Deparment for Education, this describes the knowledge, understanding and skills that teaching addresses in key stages 1 and 2. Secondary schools teach Citizenship as a statutory National Curriculum foundation subject. Lessons address the required knowledge, understanding and skills set out in Citizenship programmes of study for key stage 3 and 4.

Additionally students can study a GCSE Citizenship Studies which contains the content and assessment for preparing students for this qualification. Citizenship education can continue post-16 through the study of qualifications such as Politics, Law and Sociology at A level and as part of enrichment activities in sixth-forms and colleges. There are also a range of other qualifications which recognise attainment in Citizenship.

Impartiality and teaching political issues

Citizenship teaching explores a wide range of sensitive and political issues with students. ACT produced a guide for secondary schools in England to help schools maintain political impartiality when teaching Citizenship. You can download the guide here. ACT worked with the Welsh Government to develop impartiality guidelines for schools in Wales.

How Citizenship became part of the National Curriculum in England

Politicians from all parties, teachers and young people campaigned for citizenship education to be part of the curriculum. Today, there continues to be cross-party political support for the subject.

In 1997, Professor Sir Bernard Crick was asked to chair an Advisory Group on Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools by the then Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett MP. The Group report, sometimes known as the ‘Crick report‘ recommended citizenship education be introduced. The Group highlights three principles that underpin Citizenship and develop: social and moral responsibility, political literacy and community involvement.

The report was accepted in full by government and Citizenship became a statutory National Curriculum foundation subject from 2002. The Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) was founded in 2001 to support teachers and everyone engaged in providing high quality citizenship teaching  in schools.

Launching Citizenship in England in 2002

Citizenship became a statutory National Curriculum subject in England in 2002, and this was when the first National Curriculum was published with a programme of study that sets out what schools need to address in their teaching. The programme of study was reviewed in 2007, for first teaching in 2008. Then again in 2013, for first teaching in 2014.  

During the most recent review, a coalition called Democratic Life set up a campaign to ensure there was continued and widespread support for Citizenship in the National Curriculum. The campaign was successful and Citizenship continues as a statutory National Curriculum subject in secondary schools today. 

A student view of the importance of Citizenship

Through Citizenship we start to really understand how vital the right to political action is and how to get our views across and tell our stories in the most effective way.