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Citizenship Education Inspires Independent, Inquisitive Students

Citizenship. What does it actually mean?

Oxford Dictionaries describes a citizen as “A legally recognised subject or national of a state or commonwealth”. However, as educators, we have ultimate responsibility over the children in our care, and sending them off with a wholesale definition of what it means to be a UK citizen just isn’t good enough. For British democracy to continue to thrive and evolve, we need politically informed, self-aware, active citizens. We have to prepare students for the wider world outside of education.

Citizenship education makes OFSTED happy. It’s a fact. Two years ago, the Department for Education started pushing for educators to promote British values in lessons, accompanied by a list of fundamental British values:

  • Democracy
  • The rule of law
  • Individual liberty
  • Mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith

While this is more comprehensive than the dictionary definition, again, this is a skewed perspective. Citizenship encompasses much more than just a laundry list of concepts; if you’re teaching citizenship to your students, it’s not as simple as just telling them what to do. These concepts should be woven into students’ everyday lives, so it makes sense to weave them into your school curriculum.

That being said, what should a modern Citizenship education look like?

The Department of Education is pushing for their concept of fundamental British values to be included as part of spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development in schools. They make the point that any school that actively promotes these values should apply them introspectively, and that any school systems that undermine these fundamental values should be pruned. This could take many forms; for example, you could take a democratic approach to appointing school prefects or heads of year. There are always opportunities to reflect real-world approaches to democracy and politics in your school’s systems.

A holistic approach to citizenship education has myriad benefits. Consider the old adage:

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.

You could reel off a checklist of attributes and tell students what they should be doing, but this isn’t effective. You can’t tell children how to act; you have to demonstrate it. Children love to learn through action. Manifest fundamental British values – not just through PSHE teaching, but also through the school structure and the way you act as a member of staff – and you’ll find that democracy, law, free speech, and equality become intrinsic elements of your students’ lives.

The National Curriculum has an entire section dedicated to secondary school Citizenship education, despite the fact that it’s usually not taught as a separate lesson. In fact, it’s a statutory requirement that students are taught these main principles. Interestingly, while the Curriculum covers the same general ground as the DfE’s fundamental British values, it also highlights the importance of community, the power afforded to individuals in society, and how to manage personal finances.

With these principles in mind, we created a new range of page ideas that cover all aspects of the Citizenship programme of the National Curriculum and complement a holistic approach to citizenship education. With a customised student planner, you can build these concepts into your school policies. The full range of Citizenship page ideas can be found here.
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