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3rd Feb 2023 9:00am Blogs

What works best in educating young citizens?

Dr Lee Jerome, who heads our ACT active citizenship programme discusses the outcomes of the research undertaken so far and the next steps.

What works best in educating young citizens and what difference does citizenship education make?

ACT has been promoting citizenship education for over twenty years and we’re sure most members and supporters will have their own ideas about why citizenship education is important, what difference it makes and what seems to work best. As part of ACT’s recent expansion we have been recruited to form a research and evaluation team working with ACT staff and members to explore these questions. The research has already produced some useful outcomes and we are also recruiting participants for a new data collection phase, so if you are involved in teaching citizenship we hope you will find something useful here and be able to contribute to our forthcoming work.

What have we achieved so far?

There is already a lot of evidence out there about what works. Some of it is kept informally in schools and is evident in teachers’ advanced practices (and excellent results), their planning, and the wisdom they pass on through CPD and mentoring. Some evidence has also been captured more formally in research projects and associated research publications. 

In order to capture some of that informal wisdom about what works we have published a series of case studies to illustrate the different approaches taken by schools to make citizenship education successful in varied contexts. This publication includes curriculum maps, accounts of how provision has developed over time, and detailed explanations of how citizenship education has been interpreted to ensure it is relevant to the local context and school ethos. 

In order to evaluate the research evidence we conducted a systematic literature review. We focused on articles in peer-reviewed education journals that sought to measure impact in relation to citizenship outcomes. We searched thousands of articles to find 133 highly relevant studies. These are mostly from the USA, Europe and the UK and include large scale evaluations and control trials of national or regional programmes, large international surveys, and smaller evaluations of specific projects. The results confirm some things teachers already know, but also suggest some new lines of thinking. In particular we were struck by the wide evidence supporting a range of interactive teaching strategies over direct instruction or lecture style input. A less expected outcome was our finding that students’ experience of citizenship activities is better when they feel their school and teachers listen to them – this was a powerful reminder to school leaders about the importance of getting the foundations right with school ethos, values and relationships. 

We will be blogging in greater depth about our findings over the next few weeks and months, but the full reports are already available on-line at the bottom of this blog.

What next?

Our next phase of work is focused on collecting data from as many students and teachers as possible. 


We want to know about what kind of curriculum is on offer around the country but we also want to know about the citizenship workforce – who are we, what experiences do we bring to the role, and how does our teaching connect to our wider beliefs and values? We are piloting a teacher survey with ACT colleagues that will collect data and generate an automatic report, providing you with individualised feedback on how ACT might support you.


We also want to know about students’ experiences of citizenship education, including what kinds of topics they study, how they encounter citizenship learning, and their opportunities to get involved in citizenship activities. We will also ask about students’ knowledge about democracy, their attitudes towards democracy and diversity, and their developing sense of efficacy / agency.

Once we have this information we can map the nature and impact of citizenship education more thoroughly and begin to explore what factors are associated with different outcomes.

A focus on inequality

One of the most significant findings from our initial research concerns the ‘civic gap’, which reflects the attainment gap between children from different socio-economic groups. We are working with a smaller group of schools in very diverse (and deprived) communities to track student outcomes over three years, to think about what works to narrow this gap. 

Get involved 

  1. All teachers can complete our on-line survey, which will be published in March.
  2. We would like as many schools as possible to complete the student survey in their schools. This will be published as an online survey and will be available for the whole of the summer term. We would urge you to set aside an hour at some point for your classes to complete this. In return, we will generate individualised school reports after the survey has closed to help you evaluate your own provision.
  3. If you are in a mixed urban school with double the national level of EAL (over 30%) and free school meals (over 50%) then get in touch about joining our cohort of schools working on closing the civic gap.

There are some useful links shared below and on the research section of the website. You can also sign up for further information by emailing us at [email protected] 

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: