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Creating citizenship communities: helping young people take their place in society

Posted on 17 May 2013

A major new study suggests a range of potential improvements in the way schools pursue citizenship education.

Esmee Fairbairn and NFER logos

The study, carried out by the Department of Education at York, in partnership with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), resulted in the Creating Citizenship Communities report which was launched at the Palace of Westminster.

It suggests that while schools are ‘hugely active’ in promoting citizenship education and community cohesion, more could be done to create a sense of community in schools themselves. The study also found that schools could do more to help young people engage with their local communities.

The project, which was supported by a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, involved a range of research tools including a national survey of schools and focus groups of young people in eight schools across the UK.

Young people suggest that schools should take citizenship education more seriously and that it should be more directly relevant to their lives.

Meanwhile, the survey of school coordinators and leaders on community cohesion and citizenship found that while a wide range of activities takes place in schools to develop students’ sense of social responsibility, schools face significant challenges in helping young people to understand and become constructively engaged in society.

The study also found that, at times, relatively little attention is paid to young people’s knowledge and experience in the development of citizenship education.

Drawing on the results of the study, researchers make a series of recommendations:

  • The status of citizenship education and community should be raised in schools
  • Inaccurate negative stereotypical representations of young people and the ways in which they engage in communities should be challenged
  • There should be more explicit links made within schools to connect citizenship education (which is often seen as almost exclusively curricular) with community (which is often principally developed through a whole school approach)
  • There should be more opportunities to explore the educational potential of young people’s knowledge and experience of communities

Young people know a good deal about their communities but this may not be taken fully into account by teachers

Professor Ian Davies

Professor Ian Davies, of the Department of Education at the University of York, said: “There may be a lack of connection between work in schools and the lives of young people beyond school. Young people know a good deal about their communities but this may not be taken fully into account by teachers.

“Secondly, there may be a lack of co-ordination between the citizenship education teacher and those with responsibility for strengthening the school’s community involvement. The vast majority of schools declare their commitment to both citizenship education and community cohesion but respondents less commonly reported that their schools had specific objectives or targets which linked citizenship with the community.”

Jennifer Jeffes, Research Manager at NFER, which carried out the survey, said: “The Creating Citizenship Communities project represents an important step forward in understanding the connections that schools and young people make between citizenship education and their involvement in communities. The findings from this research now provide a real opportunity for the learning community to consider how schools can be further supported to bring together classroom learning with young people’s community activities outside of school.”

Baroness Estelle Morris, who chaired the launch of the Creating Citizenship Communities report at Westminster, said: “We all want and expect young people to grow into confident adult citizens, understanding and contributing to the communities of which they are members. Schools have an important role in helping them to achieve this yet too often it is a neglected area of the curriculum. The findings of this research should both help to raise the profile of this important area and contribute to improving practice.”

Notes to editors:

  • The Department of Education at the University of York, in partnership with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), conducted the study into Creating Citizenship Communities through new approaches to learning. It was funded by a generous grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. As part of this study, NFER conducted an online questionnaire survey to identify current thinking and practice in schools in relation to community cohesion, and to begin exploration of young people’s perceptions and practice as a basis for further exploration in the case-study phase. Other aspects of the project included a literature review and analysis of LYPSE data.
  • NFER is the UK’s largest independent provider of research, assessment and information services for education, training and children’s services. www.nfer.ac.uk        
  • The survey sample consisted of 800 secondary schools in England. Target respondents for this survey were members of staff with responsibility for community cohesion and/or citizenship within their school. A total of 132 respondents participated in the survey, from 119 schools. One response was selected at random from each duplicate school, resulting in 119 individual responses.        
  • Schools were stratified by:
    • Urban/rural schools
    • Percentage of White British students
    • Schools’ position within the index of multiple deprivation
    • The responses received were largely representative of the national population of schools in relation to each of these criteria.
    • The majority of respondents (71 per cent) had responsibility for the curriculum in relation to citizenship and community. Almost half of respondents (47 per cent) had strategic responsibilities for citizenship and community, and/or responsibilities for school-wide planning.
    • Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of respondents were teachers with responsibilities for citizenship education, and almost one-quarter (23 per cent) were members of their school’s senior management team. A small number of respondents (four per cent) were teachers without responsibilities for citizenship education, and a further three per cent were non-teaching staff.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

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