The riots of 2011 left us wondering what else we can do to help young people take a positive role in our communities. There are lots of theories around why the riots took place. Certainly the young people who were involved seemed to have a lack of engagement with or responsibility for their locality. That coupled with the temptation of some freebies was just too much for many.
As usual, it’s schools who are being held partly responsible. If only we could get our discipline right! However, on the whole, discipline in schools is good and perhaps far better than we would see in many of the homes that our young people come from.
If we’re looking for blame, we could argue that the focus on attainment and standards hasn’t helped ensure that we’re looking after the needs of all our pupils or at the importance of the ‘softer’ skills we should be teaching. That’s not to blame schools but the environment in which they are operating.
Certainly, in response to recent events we can expect an increased interest in subjects such as citizenship and here I come to answer your question. It would seem that in most secondary schools citizenship needs to be taught through a mixture of approaches. Some aspect of discrete teaching and some teaching through other subjects set within an ethos and framework that encourages pupils to take leadership roles and where they can see democracy at work.
What Ofsted said
If you have time, it might be useful to begin by having a look at Ofsted’s comments about citizenship teaching. ‘Citizenship established?’. In this report inspectors were critical of suspension of the timetable for blocked coverage suggesting that it resulted in omissions and difficulties with assessment. Instead they preferred an approach that included declared and regular space on the timetable.
Inspectors also found that there were difficulties covering citizenship through other subjects. This approach sometimes resulted in teachers who held little interest or confidence teaching quite sensitive subjects.
Whoever you decide is going to be responsible for your citizenship education needs to feel confident about delivering it. They don’t have to know everything but they should feel equipped to approach the subject knowing if difficult questions do arise they know where to go for the answers. Ideally schools should have specialist staff and the subject should be given clear status within the curriculum with allocated slots.
Assessment of the subject shouldn’t be neglected either. The sad fact is that subjects that are not assessed tend not to be taken as seriously as others. It can also help ensure that teachers understand the skills involved and how these might build on one another.
The Association for Citizenship Teaching has a clear view of what the citizenship-rich school might look like. It includes:
- Clarity within the curriculum about what the school is trying to achieve, how it will achieve it and how impact will be measured
- A clear curriculum offer that includes discrete lessons as well as integrated projects
- Opportunities for active participation within the school and out into the community including through the promotion of student voice
- The presence of a specialist team of staff who can support other teachers
- Citizenship as understood and valued by all staff
- A whole school vision that recognizes the integral part that citizenship plays
Perhaps most important is your whole school ethos. There is no point in having an extensive citizenship curriculum and then not listening to what pupils have to say. Your school practice and ethos should reflect the principles that you are introducing as taught content. Pupils of all levels of ability should have opportunity to take on leadership roles and everyone throughout the school should be encouraged to apply critical thinking to the media and the messages they encounter.
Ensuring that your pupils are equipped with the skills, the knowledge and the desire to be involved and to care for their community is a long-term aim, recent events suggest that there is still a long way to go.