England’s Citizenship Education Experiment: State, School and Student Perspectives

9781441122247Citizenship Education, as a subject, has been a part of the English National Curriculum since 2002, and this book by Lee Jerome outlines interesting developments in this field over the last ten years.  The Crick Report of 1998 was influential in establishing governmental policies that eventually introduced Citizenship Education as a subject: secondary school students are encouraged to become informed and responsible citizens, in a democratic society, with finely tuned critical thinking skills, whilst learning about identities and diversity, democracy and justice, and rights and responsibilities. Citizenship Education in the curriculum has placed emphasis on students enjoying learning through active participation.

In this treatise on the way this relatively new subject has impacted upon schools, Lee Jerome successfully argues that any developments in education cannot be separated from the political context in which policies emerged.  Throughout the book he provides evidence and examples to emphasise the importance of always critically examining the prevailing political context.

The book would benefit those wanting a good grounding in the establishment of general citizenship education in the last decade informing us about distinct types of citizenship literature: justificatory, definitional, comparative, historical, and evaluative. If you are new to this field of researching citizenship education, then this is a great compilation of relevant significant literature and case studies illustrating how citizenship education has progressed in England.  Moreover you will be introduced to the relevant terminology within this field in a straightforward and simple way.

Jerome provides readers with a ‘toolkit’ to become confident in understanding definitions and analysis of citizenship education policy, particularly in the context of the New Labour government initiatives that helped to bring this area to the forefront.  We learn about New Labour’s intentions in promoting citizenship concerns as a contested site, as well as their Third Way approach. Moreover, we receive detailed information about the trope of the new citizen (advocated by New Labour) through three key discourses: rights and responsibilities, active citizenship and participation, and community and diversity.

Two significant texts that have contributed to contemporary ideas on citizenship education policies and practices are the Crick Report of 1998 and the Ajegbo Review in 2007.  Jerome discusses these two reports in relation to the aforementioned three key discourse areas of the educational field.  Further, Jerome provides us with in-depth case studies of Citizenship Education in action in school settings through teacher interviews and examination of policy documents. We gain knowledge of teachers’ perspectives and experiences of the teaching and learning of the still relatively new subject of Citizenship Education.  We also become familiar with students’ perceptions and encounters with Citizenship Education in the curriculum.

I particularly enjoyed reading the section where Jerome highlights how research can be innovative and democratic if we train students to become researchers and champion their voices. Rather than conceptualising the students as ‘subjects’, it is preferable to view them as participants in the study, or even better as co-researchers.  Excellent reasons are given as to why the idea of students as ethnographic researchers can be beneficial and useful, for example they can help with the design, with access and with interpreting data.  If students are given opportunities to analyse the data, this will contribute to their becoming more critical in their reflections on citizenship issues.

Therefore the book is useful in allowing insight into both student and teacher articulations about the practice of Citizenship Education in action, rather than just giving us an abstract and theoretical point of view. The case studies illustrate how the contested subject of Citizenship Education is actually interpreted by schools, and the staff and students within these schools.

In terms of notions of multicultural citizenship in England, and concepts of community and diversity, there is much to learn about how students talk about important issues such as racism and immigration.  Towards the end of the book, Jerome highlights the implications of the new coalition government’s stance towards citizenship.

This book would be a superb key text for those working in sociology and education research fields who wish to learn more about the impact of political context on citizenship education policy in schools, on teachers and on students. One of the main lessons from Jerome’s writings is that any study of citizenship education in schools cannot be divorced from a detailed understanding of the political forces at play attempting to influence how schools frame citizenship issues in their local communities. Jerome ends his book with the concluding optimistic thought that citizenship education can work well when taught well.

Sadia Habib is a PhD candidate in Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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