Classrooms, boardrooms and staffrooms

For nine years, between 2001 and 2010, I had the privilege to lead the Citizenship Foundation, one of the pre-eminent voices in the movement to establish Citizenship Education in the National Curriculum in English schools. The Foundation was one of several founding partners who together established the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT), the membership body for those who continue to deliver this key, but too often ignored, curriculum entitlement. In an article in the issue 52 of the ACT journal, Teaching Citizenship, published in November 2020, I explore the key role that Citizenship educators, and others across the wider social curriculum, need to play if we are to effectively renew our schooling system in light of the pandemic. An extended version of the article, Classrooms, Boardrooms and Staffrooms: post pandemic landscapes for citizenship education and citizenship educators, is reproduced below.


Fifteen or so years ago, with Citizenship then a relatively new Foundation Subject of the National Curriculum in secondary schools, Barry Dufour and I, with the support of colleagues at what was then the Citizenship Foundation (and is now Young Citizens) developed the concept of the Citizenship-rich school, giving expression to this in our edited collection, Developing Citizens: a comprehensive introduction to citizenship education in the secondary school (2006) and in a range of practitioner focused journals, including Teaching Citizenship. In this article I set out why I believe that there is merit in revisiting the concept in light of the remaining challenges facing those of us in Citizenship Education, developments in what I would contend are the related fields of localism and governance, and through the opportunities (and need) for post pandemic educational reform.

The remaining challenge for Citizenship educators

With a chasm remaining in our society where political literacy should be, it seems to me that Citizenship Education is more needed than ever, but perhaps less visible in our schools than at any time since the subject’s addition to the National Curriculum in 2002. This had followed the publication of the first of three reports from independent advisory committees Chaired by Professor (later Sir) Bernard Crick. The first report, Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools (QCA, 1998), outlined the need for Citizenship Education during the years of statutory education, the second argued for such provision for those in Further Education and training, Citizenship for 16-19 Year Olds in Education and Training (FEFC, 2000), while the third, The New and the Old (Home Office, 2003) focused on the educational needs of newcomers to Britain, and those long-settled migrants seeking the formal status of British Citizenship.

At the heart of Crick’s model of Citizenship, especially in the inaugural schools-focused report, was a three-dimensional model that conceptualised Citizenship as being composed of a set of interrelated strands: social and moral responsibility, political literacy and community involvement. Amongst these, the focus on a model of citizenship that placed political literacy at its core was distinctive. It heralded a model not just of ‘active’ citizenship but of effective citizenship – a citizenship not simply marked out by kindness and care but one that sought to empower, give agency and transform. This wasn’t about earnest young people helping elders to cross a road (whether or not the latter wished to do so) or about digging their gardens (irrespective of whether they had requested such “random acts of kindness”); it was about individuals working together to shape society and it was about responding to a democratic deficit that remains as strong today as when Crick reported. Addressing such a deficit had been a lifetime’s work for Crick, whose earlier efforts had included the establishment of the Politics Association and authoring the seminal text, In Defence of Politics (1962). He was later, of course, to establish the Association for Citizenship Teaching itself.

Crick’s Legacy

Crick’s endeavours helped to spawn a series of further reports, and a number of related policy innovations, including the introduction of a Statutory Duty on schools to promote Community Cohesion, a foray into a prolonged debate about what has been termed a “Statement of British Values” (but which might better be thought of as a “British Statement of Values”) and, controversially, the launch of the PREVENT initiative. Five post-Crick reports are particularly notable: Sir Keith Ajegbo’s report, Diversity and Citizenship, which led to the addition of a fourth strand concerned with Diversity and Inclusion to Crick’s framework for Citizenship in the National Curriculum, Peter (Lord) Goldsmith’s Report, Citizenship: Our Common Bond (2007) and the report of the Commission on Integration and Commission, led by Darra Singh, Our Shared Future (2007), both of which focused on the notion of shared values as the connecting glue of any ‘lived’ model of Citizenship, and Learning through Life: Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning, supported by NIACE and written by Tom Schuller and David Watson (NIACE, 2009), which focused on the need to enable adults (who had rarely benefited from any form of political education during their school years) to access Citizenship Education through Adult and Community Learning programmes. Finally, one of Crick’s shrewdest moves was to convince the Department for Education to commission the National Foundation for Educational Research to launch the Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study, led by Professor David Kerr, into the impact of the introduction of Citizenship Education in schools, and related initiatives. The CELS study as it has become known, produced a whole series of important reports and research summaries.

The point of this historical tour is to give a sense the sheer scale of activity in the Citizenship Education sphere that characterised the years between 1997 and 2010 and to draw on this work and subsequent activity – led by, amongst others, ACT, Young Citizens and the alliance formed by both organisations in 2009, Democratic Life – in revisiting the potential of the Citizenship-rich school as a concept for re-energising the Citizenship Education agenda and the broader social curriculum within which it sits. Moreover, my own work, over the past five years in the school governance arena and in exploring the links between educational provision and localism, has caused me to reflect on whether recent innovations in school governance, in part following my own reports, Who Governs Our Schools? Trends, Tensions and Opportunities (RSA, 2017) and A Place for Learning: putting learning at the heart of citizenship, civic identity and community life (RSA, 2016) may open up new conduits for developing new forms of Citizenship-rich schooling in the sort of post-pandemic landscape that I discuss in my latest book, Lessons from Lockdown: the educational legacy of COVID-19 (Routledge, 2021, forthcoming).

Revisiting the Citizenship-rich school

The concept of the Citizenship-rich school emerged to some degree because of the debate about the nature of Citizenship as a subject, an issue thrown into sharp focus by its inclusion, as just that, in the National Curriculum, a theme that I had explored in a pair of articles published in early editions of Teaching Citizenship, A Citizenship Manifesto for Every School (Vo.2, No.1; Breslin, 2002) and New Subject: New Type of Subject (Vol.4, No.2; Breslin, 2004). The first article explored the Manifesto idea which, as I recall, had emerged from a teacher workshop that I had led in Autumn 2001 in which we considered the diversity of citizenship learning experiences that young people might be exposed to as they worked their way through secondary education and through the newly statutory Citizenship curriculum in particular: opportunities to engage in charitable, community and enterprise projects, opportunities to seek election and represent their peers through various student voice conduits, visiting schemes, mock Parliament and mock trial projects and competitions, the study of different social movements in subjects such as History and Sociology, school-based volunteering initiatives, and so on. The problem with many of these opportunities, especially those with a participative dimension, was that they were (and are) sometimes dominated by a small group of students. Perhaps through a manifesto-based approach, schools could commit to delivering an entitlement – curricular and extra-curricular, within Citizenship classrooms and across the curriculum – for all secondary age students across years seven to eleven, delivering a genuinely experiential model of Citizenship Education to all young people.

The second article explored Citizenship as a subject, and a new kind of subject. In particular, its aim was to get away from the false “do you teach it as a distinct subject or do you ‘go’ cross-curricular” dichotomy that was prevalent at the time. At a teachers’ CPD seminar staged at the London office of the National Union of Teachers in early 2002, I recall one nationally profiled Head responding to my presentation with the comment “Tony, you can’t teach citizenship in forty-five minute lessons – you’ll bore the kids to death”. My response was quick and a little sharper than I intended: “Well, that’s never stopped us with Maths, English, History, Geography…” As Barry Dufour and I were later to argue in Developing Citizens, the choice is not between ‘subject’ or ‘cross-curricular’ approaches but how they are combined. As too many schools have found (but too few have acknowledged), cross-curricular approaches, as I remarked at a Select Committee hearing into the teaching of Citizenship Education (TSO, 2007), can quickly dissolve into no coverage at all: doing Citizenship everywhere can amount to doing it nowhere, but if Citizenship has a proper curricular home, evidenced by a place on the timetable (and usually that means more than adding the letter ‘C’ in the non-specialist delivery of PSHEE), it can flourish because of this anchorage point elsewhere in the curriculum, be this through the study of the Suffragettes in History, the consideration of Community in Geography or the use of voting data in Maths.

Citizenship Education in the classroom (and beyond)

This combination of subject-specific and cross-curricular delivery flourishes best in an environment that itself nurtures and models Citizenship in its day-to-day practice, while doing so alongside a clear and identifiable curriculum programme for the delivery of Citizenship.

Such an environment is provided by the Citizenship-rich school. In this kind of setting, there are multiple opportunities for student engagement and the expression of student voice, a variety of programmes that enable charitable endeavour and volunteering, an open environment that welcomes parental and community involvement, strong ties with this community and a well-resourced, visible, high status Citizenship curriculum, typically delivered by a specialist team.

Thus, the cliched binary between Citizenship Education being “caught or taught” is dissolved. In the Citizenship-rich school, Citizenship is both taught and caught, and the school is both transformed as a community and in the community. In shifting from a ‘cross-curricular theme’, a status that effectively cast Citizenship as less than a subject, pre-Crick (one of six appended, retrospectively, to the original National Curriculum), it promised to become more than a subject after Crick. In truth, in too many secondary schools, it remains a promise largely undelivered.

Citizenship in process in the Boardroom

The practice of local governance is a practice in engaged citizenship. Indeed, the relative loss of power amongst local governing boards in some Multi-Academy Trust and Federation settings and, in a minority of cases, their removal, is an issue that should concern all committed to localism and local democracy.

Nonetheless, across the UK, over 250,000 volunteer citizens continue to be engaged as school governors or academy trustees, with the majority embarking on the route to governance when their children are pupils at schools in their local communities. The engagement of governors in the appointment, support and appraisal of school leaders, the setting and approval of school budgets, the oversight of of arrangements for safeguarding and wellbeing, the sign-off of school improvement strategies and the framing of the values, ethos and strategic direction to which schools commit represent one of our society’s key conduits for citizen engagement and agency. Moreover, the opportunity to build bridges between school governance and other forms of student, staff and parent engagement has the potential to be both educative and empowering. Indeed, such bridge-building is vital if a school is to genuinely consider itself “Citizenship-rich”.

Why? Because to fail to do this is to exchange an ever-richer participation pathway along which individuals can progress, should they have the commitment to do so, with relative ease for a hierarchy of disconnected participation layers according different levels of agency and implied importance to those participating through different channels. In short, the risk is that governors make decisions, the Parent Teacher Association makes cakes, and the school council plays games. In healthy, Citizenship-rich communities, participation opportunities sit along multiple, interconnected participation continuums – less a ladder of participation (to use the phrase popular in the participation literature), more a scaffolding of engagement with multiple access points, and a Boardroom door that is open to inputs and presentations from actors across the school community, not least the children and young people for whom it exists.

Citizenship Educators in the staffroom

The original National Curriculum had effectively removed the social sciences from the curriculum at Key Stage 4. Although subjects such as Sociology, Government and Politics and Psychology survived (and often thrived) in the sixth form, a significant proportion involved in the delivery of the social sciences moved into Further Education. This both weakened the capacity of schools to deliver high quality and specialist PSHE – a decade before Crick’s report was commissioned – and changed the dynamics of many school staffrooms, because these social curriculum specialists had often played a key role in school staff communities, for instance as professional association representatives and staff governors.

That cohort of Citizenship Education specialists who have subsequently emerged to support the delivery of National Curriculum Citizenship – many of whom are ACT members and readers of this journal – are the natural successors to these earlier staffroom activists, and, certainly, the post pandemic school-scape needs an injection of the kind of political literacy that those leading on the social curriculum are especially likely to possess if the expertise of the staffroom is to have its proper place in a re-purposing of schooling that, as I outline in Lessons From Lockdown, is already underway.

Moreover, with the resurgence of agendas around safeguarding, wellbeing and inclusion, their underscoring in the inspection framework launched in September 2019 (Ofsted, 2019), and the rebalancing of the standards-inclusion nexus that this implies, those with an expertise in Citizenship Education and the social curriculum are well placed to make an informed and expert contribution to these debates, in leadership teams, staffrooms and school communities more broadly.

Citizenship Educators and post Pandemic Landscapes

COVID-19 has provided a system shock that has rocked a range of our key institutions, especially those that have a habit of reproducing themselves across generations, and schooling is just such an institution. As such, post pandemic schooling is likely to differ significantly from that on offer before the virus: modes of in-class delivery, parental engagement and digital enablement are changing in a range of ways, a number of which will endure in the long term. Blended learning is likely to become the norm, rather than a quirky outlet for the technologically-confident. Home schooling is revealing itself as an option to far more than previously, and the myth that schooling works for all has finally been exposed – amongst all the headlines of educational Armageddon and the ‘disaster’ of closing schools, the tale has sometimes been lost, that, for some students, the forced closure of schools may have revealed an alternative to mass schooling that they may not previously have consciously sought.

These developments, and many, many others, provide rich terrains for both the Citizenship classroom and the Citizenship educator, and for the boardroom and staffroom. Throughout lockdown and the painful, partial, stuttering exit from it, politicians have stressed the need to “follow the science”; they might have been wise to follow the social science too. In our classrooms, staffrooms and boardrooms, citizenship educators might be amongst those best placed to do so.