Ofsted report shows Citizenship is improving but schools must do more to ensure effective, high quality teaching

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Last Friday, Ofsted published their long awaited subject report into Citizenship provision in primary and secondary schools across England. The survey is based on data collected from 126 maintained schools and 4 special schools between 2009 and 2012.

The report confirms that overall improvements in the quality of Citizenship provision are evident. However Ofsted say Heads and schools must do more. In particular Ofsted recommend schools take steps to:

  • ensure all staff teaching the Citizenship provide rigorous subject teaching and receive training in the subject
  • put in place robust systems to evaluate the quality of their Citizenship curriculum and subject provision
  • create appropriate mechanisms for pupil assessment and reporting progress in the subject to parents
  • establish the contribution of Citizenship to children’s spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development.

The key findings from the report ‘Citizenship Consolidated? A survey of citizenship in schools between 2009 and 2012’ are below:

Ofsted report ‘Citizenship Consolidated?’ Executive summary

Citizenship education equips pupils with knowledge and understanding of their rights and responsibilities in the local, national and global community. It strengthens their social, moral, spiritual and cultural awareness, improves their political literacy and gives them first-hand experience of making a positive contribution to the local and wider community.

In nearly all of the primary schools visited in this survey, citizenship was thriving. In most schools, headteachers had recognised the rich contribution the subject makes to pupils’ learning, personal development, and to the ethos of a school. These schools had translated a clear vision for the subject into a highly effective curriculum plan, which was accompanied by rigorous monitoring and evaluation. In the few weaker primary schools visited, poor curriculum planning meant that there were key gaps in pupils’ knowledge and understanding, for example in understanding democracy and how government works, and there were limited opportunities for pupils to participate actively in the school or the wider community.

The quality of citizenship education in the secondary schools visited in this survey was stronger than in the schools that participated in the earlier citizenship survey, which was published in 2010.[1] Students’ achievement in citizenship was good or outstanding in over two thirds of the 94 secondary schools visited. The most effective schools demonstrated clear vision for, and strong leadership of the subject and were led by staff who had the necessary expertise to ensure that the curriculum led to high-quality learning regardless of the delivery model.

Provision in the weaker secondary schools was characterised by insufficient teaching time, teachers’ lack of subject expertise and a lack of systems that could identify and address important weaknesses. Such schools did not recognise that non-specialist teachers often require support to develop their skills and expertise in teaching citizenship; in these schools, teachers had not received the necessary training and support to deliver more challenging aspects of the curriculum, for example learning about prejudice and discrimination in society.

More schools were delivering citizenship through other subjects than was the case in the previous survey, but with mixed results. Some schools used a cross-curricular approach, with carefully planned units of work that were taught by teachers who understood how to include citizenship dimensions in the host subject effectively. In these instances, it enhanced learning of the host subject and of citizenship. In other instances, it was much less effective because teachers did not understand citizenship well enough to incorporate it in the host subject, it was not covered in sufficient breadth and it did not contribute to pupils’ social, moral, spiritual and cultural education. It was rarely given the same attention as assessment in the host subject.

The quality of secondary school citizenship education was poorer in the last year of the survey compared with the preceding two years. Six of the 26 schools visited in the last year claimed that uncertainty over the subject’s future had diminished the level of attention they had afforded to citizenship.

Despite evidence of some impressive written work from pupils in both primary and secondary schools, the formal grading and recording of pupils’ work in the subject remains relatively weak overall in both phases.

Key findings

  • In most of the primary schools visited, citizenship was a strong feature of the curriculum. Primary headteachers frequently viewed the subject as key to promoting their school’s shared values and a sense of community within the school. They identified citizenship as an important vehicle for successfully promoting pupils’ moral, social and cultural development. Inspectors judged pupils’ achievement to be good or better in 28 of the 32 primary schools visited.
  • In the secondary schools visited in this survey, achievement in citizenship was better than in those visited in the last citizenship survey. In 64 of the 94 schools visited, pupils’ achievement was judged to be good or better.
  • Teaching was good or better in three quarters of the secondary schools visited in this survey. At best, teachers were confident experts, successfully employing a range of techniques in challenging pupils to critically explore issues and form their own views on key concepts.
  • However, teaching was not good enough in a quarter of the secondary schools; in two schools it was inadequate. Where teaching required improvement, weaknesses in the teachers’ subject knowledge and expertise led to only limited and superficial learning.
  • Although examples of effective cross-curricular delivery, resulting in high-quality learning, were observed, there were often missed opportunities to explore key aspects of citizenship in sufficient depth or to give parity to learning in citizenship with that achieved in the host subject.
  • For some non-specialist teachers, the requirement to teach citizenship has proved an unwelcome burden. Not all of those required to teach the subject understand the principles that underpin citizenship education and how these relate to other subjects, particularly the humanities and personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.
  • Leadership of the subject was good or outstanding in two thirds of the secondary schools visited. At best, effective subject leaders enjoyed strong support from senior staff and were empowered through appropriate status and resources to coordinate and drive improvement in the subject, despite, on occasions, managing complex cross-curricular arrangements.
  • Most of the schools visited provided a range of suitable opportunities for pupils to achieve well through active citizenship, through volunteering to support or represent others, or assuming leadership roles to influence change within the school. Fewer encouraged pupils to make a difference beyond school.
  • Teachers’ use of assessment in lessons was stronger than seen in the previous survey but this was the weakest aspect of teaching overall in both primary and secondary schools.


Schools should:

  • continue to improve the quality of teaching in citizenship by ensuring that all staff who deliver citizenship education receive the necessary training to teach it effectively
  • rigorously monitor the quality of provision in citizenship, whatever the mode of delivery.

Providers of secondary school initial teacher training should:

  • strengthen all trainees’ knowledge and understanding of the key concepts that underpin effective citizenship education.

[1] Citizenship established? Citizenship in schools 2006/09 (090159), Ofsted, 2010; www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/090159.

One Response to “Ofsted report shows Citizenship is improving but schools must do more to ensure effective, high quality teaching”

  1. Theory Blog says:

    Teaching Citizenship In The Secondary

    […] her subjects than was the case in the previous survey, but with mixed results. S […]

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