BIG INTERVIEW: Back to basics for citizenship - Julie Easy, education director, Institute for Citizenship

By Anthony Burt

| 21 January 2004

People often pigeonhole the subject of citizenship as something of an afterthought that youth workers and teachers don't have much time for. But this is a perception that the Institute for Citizenship is fighting to change.

The independent charity promotes participation of young people through community projects and research for the National Curriculum's citizenship subject. Next week, it is launching a youth work tool called Teaching Active Citizenship, which supports professionals delivering the subject.

Julie Easy, 26-year-old education director of the institute, explains that this training pack manual has been created with the help of young people with special needs. It forms the final result of research involving community participation workshops called ACT!

The programmes took place over the past two years in Luton, Halton, near Liverpool, and Hackney and Tower Hamlets in London. A presentation summarising how they went will take place at the institute's conference on 30 January, along with the launch of the manual. The tool will also go live on the charity's web site, www.citizen.org.uk.

"We're encouraging young people to take a fuller role in learning about social participation," says Easy.

Practitioners working in young offenders' institutions to deliver full citizenship programmes can also use the institute's training manuals to improve the involvement of young people. The Offenders' Learning and Skills Unit within the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has commissioned the institute to produce more packs.

"We've created a successful citizenship tool for young offenders' institutions," says Easy. "It's called Inside Information and has positive guidelines for foundation and intermediate basic skills work with offenders."

After citizenship had been part of the National Curriculum for a year, Ofsted conducted a report in 2003 suggesting that 85 per cent of the 25 schools inspected were not performing well when planning the subject.

Easy explains: "This has definitely improved now, because of our work and the DfES's strict guidelines in delivering the subject."

Schools were not getting to grips with the assessment of the subject because of its broad-based delivery structure (see panel). "Some targets reached by young people are difficult to identify," says Easy. "But also, and this is where ACT! comes in, schools were overwhelmed by the prospect of full community participation of their young people."

With many schools unable to afford full-time posts working on the participation aspect of citizenship, the institute found differing levels of commitment to delivering it. Some schools tag the job on to personal health and social education or PE teachers. Others set up active community liaison teams.

Part of this liaison involves getting young people more interested in politics. "This might mean youth workers look at the institute's tool and see how they can tie in a visit to a local MP's surgery, for instance," says Easy.

To further this end, the institute is co-ordinating the Question Time Challenge, where schools are applying for a chance to be involved in the BBC's politics show (YPN, 14 January, p6).

For the future, Easy is planning the post-16 delivery of citizenship through youth services, colleges, and employers. "There is a joint DfES and Learning and Skills Development Agency pilot testing how this would work," says Easy, who is hoping to persuade youth services to elevate citizenship from an afterthought into forethought.

FYI

- The National Curriculum's citizenship strand comprises three main sections: knowledge and understanding, participation and responsible action and enquiry

- The Institute for Citizenship was founded in 1992 by Bernard Weatherill MP, the then Speaker of the House of Commons

- Citizenship became a statutory school curriculum entitlement at Key Stages 3 and 4 in September 2002 - BBC's Question Time will be getting a makeover from young people in July, when the institute organises a challenge with the winning school visiting Television Centre to produce a youth version of the show.

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