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14 April, 2004

Schools are 'crucially important' in encouraging engagement, says new report

Young people must be given real opportunities to engage with issues that affect them if they are to avoid becoming cynical and disengaged, according to a report published yesterday by the Home Office. Citizenship education in schools, it says, is 'crucially important' for this:

"Schools have a responsibility to ensure that children appreciate their civil rights and responsibilities, and that the example from the school encourages them to be fully active citizens as they become older. It is not sufficient, however, to teach children about citizenship – they need the opportunity to experience and practice it."

The report, Citizenship: young people's perspectives, draws on interviews with 400 children across Britain from areas of high crime and deprivation.

It confirms that young people are not apathetic, as is commonly believed. They are interested in community involvement and current affairs but feel alienated from the processes. Many existing schemes, including some examples of school councils, are dismissed as tokenistic by young people. Schools, the report says, have a responsibility to address this:

"Children and young people of all ages want to be involved in decision making in schools, but are quick to detect and resent tokenism … All such schemes should be genuinely participatory, providing feedback to pupils about what ideas have been considered and the reasoning behind decisions."

But schools cannot do this alone:

"…in order to become fully aware of the meanings and implications of their rights and responsibilities as citizens, children need to have this teaching complemented by practical example and experience. Example should come from the practitioners around them and the experience from the structure and the organization of the school and their local community … A holistic cross-departmental approach (both governmental and local authority) is essential to address the problems apparent in deprived neighbourhoods."

This chimes with the Citizenship Foundation's experience of local 'citizenship forums'. We have found that schools play a vital role but need to be supported by organisations in the local community, so that citizenship is a genuinely collective responsibility.

The Citizenship Foundation also encourages young people to get engaged with local issues through its Youth Act! Programme.


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