Press release

Citizenship is coming of age and making its mark in schools

29 October 2009

‘Citizenship and being a good citizen runs through the school like a stick of rock. It affects everything we do, from our teaching and learning policy to our pastoral policy.’

‘I think CE is an important subject to be taught to actually show them [the young people] that we are part of a wider society and wider world.’

These quotations underline the successes that have been achieved since citizenship education (CE) became a statutory part of the national curriculum in 2002. New research shows that the subject is increasingly accepted by secondary school leaders and teachers. It is perceived to be having a positive impact on students’ confidence, tolerance and respect; while other benefits include better behaviour and attitudes, a greater awareness of current affairs and engagement with local issues. However, there remain a minority of schools where CE is not firmly embedded and where students may not be receiving their statutory entitlement.

Embedding Citizenship Education in Secondary Schools in England is NFER’s latest report from the groundbreaking Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study (CELS). It concentrates on emerging lessons from 12 longitudinal case-study schools that CELS has been following since they introduced CE in 2002

Main findings


Participation: many schools see the relevance of citizenship education in helping young people to prepare for life in modern society. In particular, CE is a forward looking part of the curriculum that helps students to build their confidence and conviction to ‘have a say’ now, and, in the future, to participate more in the community and to vote in elections.

School policies and structures for facilitating student participation within and beyond school have become much stronger since 2002, and there are many examples of good practice in building strong relationships between schools and local and wider communities.  School staff are more positive about the level of democracy in their school and the extent to which students have a voice; students as a whole are moderately positive about the classroom climate, with post-16 students most confident about having a voice in the classroom.

Teaching, learning and monitoring: schools are increasingly choosing to deliver CE through discrete time slots, though PSHE remains the most popular method of delivering the subject. Active teaching and learning methods are seen to be the best suited for its delivery and students report that CE lessons tend to involve more active participation than lessons in other subjects. There have been some improvements in monitoring and evaluation systems.

A more specialist and experienced cadre of CE teachers is gradually emerging in schools, as teachers gain more hands-on experience and confidence in teaching it in the classroom.


‘…we have so little time it’s impossible [to follow the National Curriculum]. Sometimes we have to drop whole topic areas.’
CE Coordinator

The progress of CE is not always linear and positive but is marked by considerable ebb and flow. Although CE is embedded in the majority of schools, there is still a minority where it is not yet embedded and where students may not be receiving their statutory entitlement. The subject is still evolving and ongoing challenges include:

Student participation: participation levels in and outside school have remained relatively low, and engaging students in vertical and horizontal activities remains a challenge. There is a particular challenge in providing students with opportunities to engage in ‘vertical’ activities, which involve engagement with real, decision-making processes in schools.

Student awareness: is mixed. There continues to be a risk of confusion among students between Citizenship and PSHE and a lack of awareness of CE where it is not delivered through a discrete time slot.

Delivery: can be undermined by factors such as weak leadership, implementation and coordination, the low status of CE and pressures on curriculum time.

Teaching: teaching is still predominantly delivered through less active teaching and learning methods. The use of active methods varies considerably within and between schools. The survey data suggests that 50% of CE staff had not received any training in the subject, and a sizeable number of teachers feel the need for further training, particularly to improve their confidence in teaching about the economy, the EU and Parliament and Government.

Although Ofsted’s section 5 inspections can have a significant impact on the status and practice of CE in schools, the evidence suggests that some inspections have not picked up on weak provision.

CELS Director David Kerr said: “It has taken time but there are clear signs in this report that Citizenship has become accepted in schools, particularly for its forward looking contribution in engaging young people with current issues and preparing them for life in modern society.”


The report and research brief can be accessed here | CELS home page

For more information contact Gail Goodwin, NFER’s Media and Communications Manager, on 01753 637159,

Notes to editors

NFER is carrying out a nine year evaluation of citizenship education in England on behalf of the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). The Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study (CELS) began in 2001 and is tracking a cohort of young people from 11 to 18, who entered secondary school in September 2002 and became the first students to have a statutory entitlement to citizenship education.

The research design of CELS is based on four interrelated components:

The findings in this summary are from the final (fourth) sweep of the Study’s cross-sectional survey. A nationally representative sample of 317 schools and colleges in England completed the survey during the spring term of 2008. Visits were also made to 12 case-study schools in the summer term of 2008. The case-study schools, whilst not nationally representative, illustrate of the range of different approaches to, and experiences of, citizenship education. The latest data was also compared alongside that from previous cross-sectional surveys in 2006 and 2004 and prior case-study visits in 2006, 2004 and 2002. This combined data enables analysis of the research question from three perspectives or lenses: breadth, in-depth and over time. The final report from CELS will be published in 2010.