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Why Citizenship is important to me and how this is reflected in my teaching

© 2010CPD Citizenship

Why Citizenship is important to me and how this is reflected in my teaching.

Disembodied knowledge has long been a theme for me. In my business career before I became a teacher I often reflected on the lack of application of my previous learning and the way in which I felt my own education had not prepared me to interact with and make an impact on the world. As an employer I was acutely aware of the mismatch between academic qualifications and actual performance.

My first degree was in Psychology, which was a best tangential in its relationship to a career in marketing and sales. My interest was rekindled during my PGCE 25 years latter, in particular I was keen to understand why insights into the Psychology of learning had relatively little impact on the way in which the curriculum was actually delivered in secondary education. I was particularly focused on the action learning cycle and its application.

Market forces and my paper qualifications, however dated, led me to Psychology teaching, mostly A level at KS5 but also GCSE at KS4. My frustration with the lack of applied learning led me to teach on vocational courses for Health and Social Care and Early Years. The original Tomlinson proposals appealed to me as they represented a serious attempt to bridge the academic – vocational divide.

At QECC I developed and promoted a range of extension activities, (CAS@QE) which encompassed established activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh award and introduced new ones such as peer mentoring and working with adults with learning disabilities. My aim in doing this was to provide opportunities for more experiential learning to complement and enhance subject specific teaching. Despite the success of the scheme and OFSTEAD endorsement I remained frustrated that the experiential and academic learning for most students was still worlds apart.

Conversations with the “new” citizenship co-ordinator led me to re-position the CAS@QE programme within the schools citizenship provision as most of the activities in the programme represented some form of active citizenship. The following year I took on a TLR post within the Humanities learning area specifically to develop active citizenship projects and enterprise education across the whole school.

From this came the first environment day in 2007 for all Y7 students. Working closely with NGO’s such as the local District and County Council a collapsed timetable day was created which involved all students in workshops about recycling, local responses to global warming and critically in my view the opportunity to collect litter from all over the town to recycle in tutor groups with the support of local volunteers and the council’s recycling team.

Further day events followed (refugee day for Y8) but crucially more planning when into integrating these with the KS3 curriculum. For the first time also I started teaching at KS3 taking on two year 9 groups for Citizenship, one hour a week. To my frustration the inherited scheme of work was dominated by P.H.S.E. topics and Citizenship themes were not explicit. I set about creating some citizenship activities which involved looking at how to bring about change within the school and local community as this I felt was the missing from KS3 provision. (see Y9 Scheme of Work) The Lions Challenge was part of this and created a model for NGO involvement which could be replicated in almost any community. (see Lions Challenge).

In 2006 I enrolled on the Certificate in Post 16 Citizenship Education offered by the LSN, accredited by the University of Warwick. I completed this in August 2007. This gave me a critical awareness of the development of citizenship education and enabled me to position my own activities and enthusiasms within a national context.

In my view citizenship is also a state of mind in which an individual has the potential to take actions to affect the world in which they find themselves as well as been affected by it. This is not simply a legal or a political concept it is also a Psychological state. Some individuals choose to act in societies where the citizen has few rights and in other societies rights may exist legally which are not exercised by the individuals within them.

The role of citizenship education is not just therefore to inform but also to transform. The focus of the curriculum is therefore not only the acquisition of knowledge, which is a prerequisite for effective action but also the development of skills, through practise, which enable this knowledge to be used effectively. This is linked into the role of individual agency and is a function of post-industrial society which in turn is created by the existence of a self concept where action is viewed as an option.

Throughout my teaching, whatever the subject, I have strived to develop in my students the skills not only to acquire and critically analyse knowledge but also to be able to reflect and to act on that understanding. In Psychology that clearly has ethical considerations but I always encourage students to engage fully with these rather than avoid taking action because an area is ethically contentious. An example of this is eating disorders, a topic for AS Psychology, which can be taught and examined without reference to the students’ gendered experience and position. I have encouraged students to reach conclusions based on the research evidence and their own experiences and to take part in awareness raising interventions for younger students which they implement working closely with appropriate professionals within the school. This is contentious and not without criticism however I would argue that the quality of learning for both groups of students far outweighs the risks involved.

I am very aware of the paradox implicit in developing active citizens within a school setting. Schools as institutions have developed out of a Victorian model which is far from democratic and demands for there effective management a compliance with certain formal and informal norms of behaviour. Any challenge to this has risks both for the students themselves and for the teacher concerned.

In my citizenship teaching with year nines I have tried to find a balance between the demands of the institution in terms to compliance with appropriate norms of behaviour and my interpretation of an active citizen, which can put them in a confrontational relationship with the rules and procedures of that institution. (see Y9 scheme of work)

There is a growing recognition politically that a post-industrial society needs participants rather than just consumers. Citizens are been asked to take far more responsibility for their own lives, from health to pensions. With a range of choices goes a responsibility to research and make informed decisions. Government recognises the need to develop politically aware citizens capable of taking responsible action. However the inevitable tendency is to define “responsible” in terms of their own perception of the world. No doubt the 7/7 London bombers say their own actions as an appropriate and ethically desirable response to the world as they saw it.

My own beliefs, formed in the context my own socialization and experiences, are that active citizens are needed, not necessarily just to meet the needs of post-modern society, as its needs to not coherent or mutually compatible. It is the learning which derives from active participation that I feel is potentially of lasting value. We can see from history and business that participation itself does not lead to learning, it is the capacity to reflect on the experience of participation that is vital. That, in my view, is the value of education, the responsibility of the teacher/facilitator and the function of the class room.

This belief, in the educational potential of participation in the life of the community, local, national and global has informed my teaching and my attempts to influence the direction taken by my own institution. I have tried to embody what I teach and participate fully in the development and decision making within my own immediate community. This has influence my interactions with colleagues and management. It has lead to my contribution to the humanities learning area through persistent badgering within my department. (see why GCSE Citizenship handout & why AS Cit). Then a presentation to senior management regarding the way forward for the whole school (see Salt presentation). Followed by a presentation to governors to reinforce the message and try to ensure that they are supportive of my initiatives.

This participation has been a learning curve for me, something no CPD programme could provide. However this CPD programme at least does provide any opportunity to reflect on and share my conclusions. I have learnt that many crucial decisions are made by default and that often formal channels of communication are means to frustrate and dissipate the desire for change. I recognise that promotion often serves to emaciate rather than empower because it brings with it a series of institutional demands without the time or resources to make radical change. (see CPD Action Plan)


Press Release
What is CAS @ QE? report 
Case study, Citizenship at Queen Elizabeth's School
Lions Den Newsletter
Year 9 scheme of work
Queen Elizabeth's School presentation on Citizenship
Presentation to Governors
Why should we offere GCSE Citizenship Handout
Why should we offer AS Citizenship Handout
CPD Action Plan