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Some Reflections on Education for Citizenship and Teaching of Democracy in Schools



As many readers of this article may already know, the United Kingdom has four different jurisdictions, each with its own education system and examination structure. While there are many similarities among them there are also differences. Citizenship education is one area characterised by differences. This article, therefore, will deal only with citizenship education in England.

The Crick Report (1998) was the final report of a Committee set up by government to advise on the introduction of citizenship education in schools. As a result of the report, Citizenship became a statutory subject in secondary schools in England in 2002. Noticeably, although participative, active citizenship was a key feature, the report chose to focus on the 'teaching of democracy in schools' rather than 'teaching through democracy'. Relatively little official advice has been offered to teachers to develop more democratic ways of working with their pupils as a way of developing both an understanding of the concept of democracy and the skills to work democratically in the school community and beyond. The focus of citizenship teaching in many schools is solely about citizenship. However, there are schools where more democratic ways of organising school life, in line with Article 12 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, are standard practice and young people at both primary and secondary levels participate in decision-making. For example, they are involved in policy-making, in staff recruitment and in some still-rare cases, in the school governing body.

Nevertheless, knowing about citizenship is also important. This includes learning to understand concepts such as democracy, justice and equality, together with who in society has a responsibility to ensure that these concepts are enacted and to remedy breaches of them. It is in this area of learning about citizenship that teachers can use a participative pedagogy, which supports an experience of democratic processes in the classroom and responds to their individual learning style needs. It also contributes to the skills necessary to be an active, participative citizen.


Over the years there have been different attempts to engage and motivate school students, from the sociologically inspired 'child-centred' approaches of the 1960's to the more recent psychologically based teaching and learning style theories. Participative pedagogies have been among the outcomes of these initiatives. But in England and Wales, since the introduction of the National Curriculum, the content-heavy approach to subject teaching has made a more flexible approach to learning much more difficult and many teachers have found themselves falling back on more didactic, teacher-led teaching styles.

An additional result of the content-led curriculum has been the difficulty in helping school students synthesise their knowledge from different disciplines when they consider issues beyond the classroom walls. Although this has always been easier for primary level, where all subjects are traditionally taught by one teacher to one class for one year, at secondary this has been more difficult. Before the National Curriculum, attempts were made to help students in school see the links and connections between the knowledge gained in various disciplines through grouping the subject content under an umbrella heading, such as 'humanities'. This approach was successful in some schools and less so in others but did bring together teachers from different disciplines to share their knowledge, experiences and approaches, which in large secondary schools was invaluable. (see Brown and Brown, 1996 for further discussion of this idea linked to teaching modern foreign languages).

Citizenship, however, has the potential to challenge the compartmentalising of knowledge that the National Curriculum has done little to change. In schools where Citizenship is a time-tabled subject, the nominated teachers are likely to be drawn from a range of disciplines; planning to ensure continuity and progression for each student will bring together teachers with a range of knowledge and ways of teaching in schools who choose to integrate citizenship into existing curriculum subjects; in those schools working on a suspended time-table model, the day which is identified for citizenship education is organised and contributed to by teachers from different subject specialisms.

If Citizenship education is to lead to more informed, active and responsible citizens at local, national and global levels, the issues with which they will engage need knowledge and skills from a range of disciplines. A local environmental problem, for example, may require knowledge and skills gleaned from geography, science, history and religious education in addition to knowledge about how local and national government works. It may also require skills learned in English classes to debate and present their concerns appropriately to the different audiences. Skills of critical analysis and problem solving will also be essential. Pupils will need the opportunity to practise these skills and know how to synthesise their knowledge. This will be a challenge for a generation of teachers who have had little or no experience of this more collaborative and interactive way of working.

Why interactive classrooms?

Active learning methodologies give school students the opportunity to develop the skills and values essential for an active citizenship whose purpose is to support young people in learning to act responsibly for their community, be that community local, national or global. 'Think global, act local' can remain a key maxim for citizenship today just as it did for active citizens of an earlier generation. These skills do not develop without care and nurture and the opportunity to practise them in a supportive environment. An active pedagogy in the classroom can contribute to the development of such skills.

For example, teachers may use techniques such as diamond ranking to clarify the process of prioritising, using the skills of negotiation, consensus building and communication. Imaginative use of photographs and of artists' illustrations contributes to visual literacy while responding to the learning needs of visual learners. Skills of deconstruction are necessary if young people are to begin to see how their worldview can be influenced by the visual representations. Simulation activities and other kinaesthetic learning approaches are time-consuming but can lead to a greater depth of understanding. All of these activities provide the opportunities of developing the skills of participative citizenship.

Citizenship education will therefore require not only greater inter-departmental cooperation but also a greater focus on active learning pedagogy.


Brown,K and Brown,M. (1996) New Contexts for modern language learning: cross-curricular approaches, London, CILT

Brown, K. and Brown, M. (eds) (in press) Reflections on Citizenship in a multilingual world, London, CILT

Brown, M. (1997) Education, education.... and development education in DEA Journal Vol.4.1 Revisiting Theory and Pedagogy

Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools: final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship, 22 September 1998, DfEE and QCA

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