What is Citizenship?

It’s more than a national curriculum subject

Citizenship involves people working together to make positive differences to the society in which they live – locally, nationally and globally. This process is good for individuals, and essential for strengthening and safeguarding our society and democratic way of life.

Citizenship education involves developing the knowledge, skills and confidence to enable people to make their own decisions and to take responsibility for their own lives and communities. And in many countries – where democratic society and its institutions are facing threats – citizenship education is becoming increasingly important.

At Young Citizens, we want young people to leave formal education with a strong grasp of the political, legal and economic functions of society, and with the social and moral awareness to thrive in it.

Citizenship is a statutory subject on the national curriculum in secondary schools in England, and it is one of the elements which is monitored by the schools regulator, Ofsted. It has been there since 2002.

But we don’t just want schools and colleges to teach citizenship: we also want them to demonstrate citizenship through the way they operate and the opportunities the give to young people.

Citizenship is more than a subject. If taught well and tailored to local needs, its skills and values will enhance democratic life for all of us, both rights and responsibilities, beginning in school and radiating out.

Bernard Crick, National Curriculum Citizenship, 1999


What are its essential elements?

Citizenship education involves a wide range of different elements of learning, including:

  • Knowledge and understanding about topics such as laws and rules, the democratic process, the media, human rights, diversity, money and the economy, sustainable development and world as a global community; and about concepts such as democracy, justice, equality, freedom, authority and the rule of law
  • Skills and aptitudes including critical thinking, analysing information, expressing opinions, taking part in discussions and debates, negotiating, conflict resolution and participating in community action
  • Values and dispositions including respect for justice, democracy and the rule of law, openness, tolerance, courage to defend a point of view and a willingness to: listen to, work with and stand up for others.

The most effective form of learning in citizenship education is:

  • active: emphasises learning by doing
  • interactive: uses discussion and debate
  • relevant: focuses on real-life issues facing young people and society
  • critical: encourages young people to think for themselves
  • collaborative: employs group work and co-operative learning
  • participative: gives young people a say in their own learning.


Being able to understand our rights and ability to play a role within society, as well as how to shape it with confidence, is an essential skillset for any person in the 21st century. We need to ensure young people are equipped for growingly complex and dynamic social, economic, and civic issues of today and tomorrow. Citizenship is that skillset.

Ashley Hodges, CEO, Young Citizens


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