Background information: citizenship and history

HITT Resource

Dr Katherine Burn, last updated: 6th January 2009

Citizenship was introduced as a National Curriculum subject at key stages 3 and 4 in 2002. Prior to that many schools had taught aspects of citizenship as a cross-curricular theme, often in the context of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). Much of the impetus for introducing citizenship as a compulsory subject in the school curriculum came from David Blunkett when he was Secretary of State for Education and from his adviser Bernard Crick. Crick's report on citizenship (QCA 1998) set the context for the development of the National Curriculum requirements that formed part of the curriculum revision, which came into force in 2000.

As Wrenn (1999) observed, history teachers greeted the arrival of citizenship as a statutory subject in different ways. Some saw it as an exciting challenge and opportunity to increase the time available for history. Others saw it as a potential burden likely to bore pupils and create curriculum overload.  

QCA suggested in the key stage 3 scheme of work that other curriculum subjects could contribute to citizenship by:

  • delivering content - for example ... aspects to do with the extension of political rights, such as the right to vote in history;
  • teaching skills...;
  • supporting citizenship by importing aspects of citizenship into other subjects...
    DfES/QCA (2001) Teachers Guide:13

Jerome Freeman (Freeman 2002) suggested that the National Curriculum programmes of study for history ensure that pupils:

  • learn how the past influences the present, what past societies were like, how these societies organised their politics, and what beliefs and cultures influenced people's actions
  • see the diversity of human experience and understand more themselves as individuals and members of the society
  • develop an awareness that what they learn can influence their decisions about personal choices, attitudes and values
  • develop skills that are prized in adult life, such as evaluating evidence and arguing for a point of view.

Some schools did choose to give history the prime responsibility for introducing citizenship at key stage 3. More frequently it was made part of PSHE or taught as a separate subject. On the basis of an inspection of a small sample of schools, Ofsted (2003) published a report on citizenship, entitled ‘National Curriculum citizenship: planning and implementation 2003/04'. Liz Craft and Scott Harrison (2003) considered the implications of this report, highlighting important concerns about some history teachers' claims that they were already teaching citizenship effectively within their own subject. The key messages were:  

  • Schools should consider whether they have properly recognised National Curriculum citizenship and its aims' (Ofsted 2003 cited by Craft and Harrison 2003:11).
  • Schools should look again at the constituent parts of National Curriculum citizenship, establishing a clear definition that recognises what is new and distinctive and distinguishes it from PSHE and other subjects.' (Ofsted 2003, cited by Craft, L. and Harrison, S., 2003:12)
  • In particular, some subjects claimed to teach citizenship content when in fact the objectives were only essentially related to the ‘home subject'. Within history, teachers often claimed that teaching about the Civil War or Chartism in themselves constituted citizenship education. Even when links were made between the past and the present, examples showed that many teachers still did not acknowledge the need for pupils to ‘take informed and responsible action' in the light of their new understandings. A single-stranded approach to Citizenship education was not considered acceptable. ( Ofsted 2003, cited by Craft, L. and Harrison, S., 2003:12)

The influence of the Ajegbo Report on the both history and citizenship

Early guidance (including that from Ofsted to its own inspectors) thus tended to emphasise the distinctive nature of Citizenship education, particularly in requiring informed and responsible action:

‘Work in history on the origins of parliament, the civil war and the struggle for the vote has a bearing on the work pupils should be doing in NC citizenship, but it is not citizenship; it is history.' (Ofsted Update 45, 2003)

However, more recent initiatives such as the Ajegbo Report (2007) have also acknowledged the importance of young people's historical understanding within citizenship education, if they are to understand the nature of the society in which they live, particularly in relation to issues of identity and diversity. As the explanatory text in the revised Citizenship programme of study makes clear, the third concept ‘Identities and diversity: living together in the UK' has a very strong historical dimension:

‘This includes the multiple identities that may be held by groups and communities in a diverse society, and the ways in which these identities are affected by changes in society. For example, pupils could learn about: how migration has shaped communities; common or shared identity and what unifies groups and communities; and how living together in the UK has been shaped by, and continues to be shaped by, political, social, economic and cultural changes. The historical context for such changes should be considered where appropriate'. (QCA 2007b)

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