Changing Perspectives on Citizenship

This autumn, I’ve started working for Young Citizens alongside MA study in Social Justice. This follows four years of working in secondary schools; already my perspective on the importance of Citizenship is changing.

When I reflect on my time as a teacher, I can recall countless instances of ‘accidental’ Citizenship teaching. From debating in English classrooms to crime statistics in Maths, it’s ubiquitous across the curriculum. The problem is, that’s not always intentional. Citizenship learning is a crucial part of education but is hard to implement consistently well. Thus, it’s vital that teachers think carefully about how it’s embedded into their own subject. Citizenship’s potential is enhanced when the accidental becomes conscious and purposeful. I wish that as a teacher, I had been a little more aware of this as both an opportunity and a responsibility.

Opportunities for learning about democracy, the law and economics also occur outside of the classroom. In my most recent school, I was impressed with the engagement of one group of students in a ‘Passports not Profits’ campaign run by Citizens UK. It aimed to reduce the profit-making element of the citizenship fee for young people who have lived in the UK throughout their childhood. The project gave students the chance to learn about and challenge government policy; they found the passport fees unjust and galvanised outrage into a community campaign. Giving young people the chance to engage with local activism like this is key to developing them as citizens. It shows them that their voices can be powerful.

The campaign’s uptake amongst students demonstrated their eagerness to engage with Citizenship. These experiences allow young people to learn how to articulate opinions. It’s an important part of becoming active community members. An ability to untangle political rhetoric, media bias, legal jargon is crucial too. The best way to nurture all these skills is with robust Citizenship education. School efforts at SLT and teacher-level paired with those of organisations like Young Citizens make this possible. Through my own study and work, this year I’m keen to see how research and new innovations can aid further improvements to the delivery of Citizenship education. There’s certainly room for improvement on a national scale. Thankfully, this is paired with the drive of many education professionals to incite and maintain impactful changes.

Explicit teaching on democracy, the economy and law is something students have requested from me many times. Young people do want to be active members of society. Young Citizens’ facilitation of this is an asset to all schools who partner with them and I’ve already cemented my commitment to their cause. Working in the new role with the charity alongside MA studies will doubtless provide new and complementary discoveries. No doubt I still have lots to learn.

Sophie Whitehead

Partnerships Executive,

Young Citizens