Teaching Citizenship with ACT
Last week I spoke to Chris Waller, Professional Officer at the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT). The organisation is the professional subject association for Citizenship education, and works to support teachers and schools by connecting them with organisations that provide resources, training and advice to improve the quality of Citizenship education in schools. In the wake of the curriculum review, where the future of Citizenship as a statutory subject wasn’t a certainty, we discussed the current state of Citizenship education and where it might be going in the future.
Citizenship can mean different things to different people, so I asked Chris what stance ACT takes on Citizenship education and its application in schools. Like the SSCC, involver and many other NGO’s in the field of student voice and democracy in schools; ACT’s idea of good Citizenship education is about engagement and participation, not simply knowledge and theory. As Chris put it, “It’s not learning huge amounts of stuff about government. […] It’s more about gaining the skills, knowledge and understanding to be effective and active citizens”.
While this view seems widely accepted, the most recent iteration of the national curriculum review does little to promote this way of teaching Citizenship as a subject, and opts instead to use language more open to interpretation by teachers and school leaders. I asked Chris what approach ACT would use to help make the subject more participative and less about passive learning. He was of the opinion that more time given to Citizenship education would allow students to really dig deep into the subject and get the most out of it. While reducing the amount of time dedicated to this area could hinder the quality of learning by taking away the emphasis on engagement.
Promoting this view isn’t the only way that ACT seeks to help schools respond to the scaled down Citizenship curriculum. The organisation aims to get teachers involved in the ongoing consultation process, so the issues and concerns raised by the revised program of study are well understood and can be addressed effectively. The target here is to provide a network of support to help teachers to navigate the areas that prove challenging in the new curriculum.
Chris uses the example of ‘personal finance’ (an area of study included in the new subject description) as something that could be difficult to relate back to citizenship. He suggests looking at it from an ethical perspective and asking questions about where and how we spend our money. “These are the sorts of thing you could help students ask about, the ethical and moral questions. Where will teachers get their advice and guidance from? That is where ACT will be particularly active.”
Potentially the worst consequence of the streamlined subject description would be for schools to reduce the number of skilled and trained teachers in Citizenship education, “so that those who teach the subject don’t know how to make it active and participative”. It’s foreseeable that this measure would result in Citizenship lessons being largely, or entirely, based around learning the facts of politics and democracy, but none of the necessary skills. This is because, according to Chris, teachers, “[will be] less willing to take the risk, or have less opportunity to take the risk, to make the subject really exciting”.
Despite the risks that face Citizenship education Chris and ACT are optimistic about the future of the subject. “Undoubtedly, Citizenship is in a healthy place because it has the opportunity to reinvent itself, to reinvigorate itself, to think differently. That is why I’m optimistic. Also I think there is a demand by communities and politicians and school leaders for Citizenship to be fit for purpose and to deliver. So again, there is a sense of wellbeing about the subject, certainly one that didn’t exist, let’s say, this time last year, when people really tended to think very pessimistically about the situation”.
Thanks to Chris for taking the time to meet with me and for speaking so openly about Citizenship education and ACT. I found the discussion really informative and I hope there may be something in here for SSCC members to learn from too.
If you would like to learn more about ACT you can follow this link to their site: http://www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk/page?p=2