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15 August, 2011

England riots: good citizenship lessons are a school's best conduit for social cohesion

The quality of citizenship education may be variable, but it is the best channel schools have for helping young people find their place in society.

Teachers are the people trained to educate our children. Our statement (released on Friday) calls on the government to recognise the value of citizenship education in allowing teachers to be ‘civic go-betweens':

‘They are not proxy parents ... they exist to educate and to enable young people to make sense of the world around them and responsibly administer the future society that they inherit from us'.

In a blog post Andy Thornton, our Chief Executive, goes further to stress this importance of teachers:

‘I seriously believe that if such disturbances had taken place during one evening in term time, then school would have been the most formative element in dealing with these outbreaks ... Because in term time young people would have been in dialogue with their civic go-betweens: teachers'.

Teachers, he argues, can interpret and re-frame events. They can also challenge the ‘dizzying mindset' that leads, for example, to young people with parents on the minimum wage in England stealing goods made by people on the minimum wage in China.

We are not alone in believing that citizenship education has an important part to play in this.

Last night an East London citizenship teacher challenged the panel of the BBC's Question Time Special. She was applauded when she asked why citizenship is being taken off the curriculum:

"I think that we can all agree that the rioters that we've seen over the past few days all lack basic citizenship values ... why are there plans then to remove that which is the only subject which teaches young people not only about their rights but also about their responsibilities? Why are they trying to remove that?"

And in the House of Lords yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury said that discipline is not enough; he called on the government to address citizenship education in schools:

‘Are we prepared to think about not only discipline in classrooms but the content and ethos of our educational institutions, and to ask: can we once again build a society which takes seriously the task of educating citizens - not consumers or cogs in an economic system, but citizens?'.

To find out more please email:

Notes for editors:

The Citizenship Foundation is an independent education and participation charity that aims to encourage and enable individuals to engage in democratic society. Founded in 1989, our particular focus is on developing young people's citizenship skills, knowledge and understanding of the law, democracy and public life. We do this by championing civic participation, supporting teachers and schools with the delivery of citizenship education and by working with young people in community-settings on issues that concern them.


The Citizenship Foundation: registered charity no 801360.

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