Through working for a charity committed to enabling young people to become active citizens, I see first hand the importance of engaging young people in the economic, political and legal worlds. Now more than ever, it is vital that young people are given the knowledge and the skills to confidently navigate these worlds - either to make positive changes, petition and lobby ministers or simply to understand, and seek information, critically looking at sources of news and not succumbing to political apathy. Because of this it was particularly moving to listen to citizenship experts speaking at the recent House of Lords Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement and describing citizenship education as "withering on the vine".
At a time when all parties should agree that the changes being made locally, nationally and intra-nationally impact young people and that they should be given the tools and the forum to understand these, it is sad to hear of party politics getting in the way of what should be an entitlement that everyone has in a democratic system - that is to be given the knowledge to understand and the skills to contribute positively. To be able to make informed choices, whether in General Elections or community action.
Citizenship education in recent years has been in decline - both in status as an academic subject but also an area of expertise that teachers can specialise in. The result is shocking. The number of teachers specialising in citizenship this year is 40 compared to 230 in 2010. Liz Morse from the Association for Citizenship Teaching cites persistent government policy as a reason for this. She argues that citizenship teachers are a national asset but this subject area is not given the credit nor the status to encourage specialism. The result is that the delivery of high-quality citizenship education is few and far between to be found in schools. Only recently the National College for Teaching and Leadership introduced a programme for specialist leaders in education - citizenship was left out as a subject. It seems that policy decisions have meant that citizenship education is no longer viewed as a crucial part of the curriculum that should be delivered by specialists. It is not viewed as a subject which deserves status and investment and at worst teachers are being positively discouraged from pursuing it as an area to teach in. Ironically this all comes at a time when certain policy decisions make this subject all the more necessary to have in schools.
Tom Franklin from the education-based charity, the Citizenship Foundation, stated at the committee that 'the support for the subject has been dismantled. Though the subject is in the national curriculum, many schools do not teach it and so it is there in name only. Whether young people receive citizenship education therefore is a lottery'. Surely understanding how the democratic system works, how the legal system impacts our lives and how decisions are made locally are issues that all young people should be able to explore in school. It is an entitlement to living in a democratic society to understand the nature of that democracy and how it operates.
Interestingly, amongst young people there is an appetite for wanting to engage, wanting to understand and to debate issues. Unfortunately for thousands they are simply not given the opportunity to do so. The recent All Party Parliamentary Group on a Better Brexit for Young People (APPG-BBYP) found that though young people remained distrustful of political institutions, most remained passionate about politics' and believed that 'citizens do not have enough political knowledge' and that there needed to be investment in political education. Similarly in my experience teachers have been equally frustrated in not having the resources or the tools to deal sensitively with this area effectively. Charities like the Citizenship Foundation seek to bridge this gap by providing high quality lesson plans and resources for teachers to use, bringing these issues alive in the classroom and encouraging debate and discussion. But without the likes of the Department for Education and policy makers taking a lead in establishing citizenship as a core subject there cannot be a positive change in the culture around citizenship education.
The call to action is therefore multifaceted. Citizenship education, despite being in the national curriculum, needs to be invested in and this means providing career development prospects for teachers to specialise in the area and encouraging schools to take the subject seriously by allocating suitable time for it in the school day as well as fostering a culture of active inquisitive citizenship amongst its young people. Government policy needs to include citizenship education rather than excluding it and demonstrating at best disinterest for what is a vital subject area. Recent political developments have made it all the more crucial that the next generation is armed with the knowledge and skills to deal with a rapidly changing world, both to realise that they not only have a stake in society but that they can play a crucial part in shaping it.