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Schools can be wary of a cross-curricular approach to citizenship, when its effectiveness is difficult to demonstrate among other subject priorities, but the model at Shirebrook School has won plaudits from Ofsted. Tracy Horton explains how it works.

Shirebrook School is an 11-16 comprehensive serving an ex-mining town in North Derbyshire. The proportion of students from ethnic minority groups is very small, although recently there have been increasing numbers of economic migrants from Eastern Europe coming here to work for local companies.

As such, the need to promote cultural understanding and tolerance as part of the citizenship curriculum has loomed especially large alongside other priorities such as developing students' confidence and skills to engage in active citizenship.

Children come here from an area of high deprivation and attainment of students on entry is well below the national average, although GCSE results have improved significantly in recent years, and we are in the top 100 schools showing the greatest levels of sustained improvement between 2006 and 2009.

Citizenship is part of our personal development curriculum, which also includes careers education, PSHE and enterprise. Four years ago, I was appointed as personal development co-ordinator to plan and develop it.

Mine is a non-teaching role (my background is in careers guidance), which is important. It means there is time to do tasks such as develop networks with outside agencies, work with staff across the school and run activities, such as trips out of school, to supplement the core personal development curriculum.

I work as part of a pastoral team with heads of year, learning support and behaviour support staff, and the community liaison officer to ensure that student needs are addressed in a consistent way.

The principles underpinning citizenship education, listed in our citizenship policy, are central to the whole school ethos. They include:

  • helping students to understand the context in which they live, at a local, national, and global level

  • understanding of political systems and processes, environmental issues, and an appreciation of different cultures

  • ensuring students are aware of opportunities to participate in society, including voluntary work and political processes

  • preparing students for life in a multi-cultural society

These principles have helped to foster a commitment across the school to developing students as confident and active members of their wider community.

Cross-curricular links

The curriculum is delivered through a combination of cross-curricular links and 'super learning days'. It's a model which is sometimes criticised on the basis that citizenship can be lost among other subject priorities, while theme days can end up being one-off events with little connection with a broader programme.

We believe that our approach firmly rebuts this criticism, however, and Ofsted agrees: in 2009 inspectors rated Shirebrook's citizenship as good with many outstanding features.

To develop the cross-curricular links, a whole school audit was carried out to identify topics linked to citizenship. Heads of department were given a sheet listing the main citizenship themes, concepts and processes and were asked to identify which topics in their schemes of work contained links. I then met staff to look at the detail to identify the strongest links.

We also identified assessment tasks that meet both citizenship and other subject learning outcomes. A series of assessed pieces of work from different citizenship topics around the curriculum allow a student level to be given at the end of Key Stage 3. I am responsible for monitoring and collating these assessments.

Key topics which lend themselves to citizenship particularly well include RE, where we have studied the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and history where we examined the slave trade from both historical and citizenship perspectives.

In English, the debating unit of the citizenship curriculum for year 8 is an English writing assessment. Students look at a speech by Barack Obama and consider persuasive writing styles, then have to write a persuasive piece themselves. The written piece is assessed for English and citizenship in terms of articulating and arguing a point of view to others.

For the climate change unit in year 9 science, students look at the scientific evidence for climate change, but also consider the roles of individuals, governments, and businesses in addressing this issue. The assessment task includes analysis of data and a written assessment of the action that can be taken, and students are given levels for both science and citizenship.

A school logo for citizenship, designed by a student, helps to give the subject a recognisable 'brand' across the school. It is used on whiteboard presentations, handouts, worksheets, and assessment sheets so that students can see that they are doing citizenship alongside the other subject. I also use it on materials for super learning days.

Super learning days

Super learning days are off-timetable theme days led by form tutors but with significant contributions from outside agencies. They supplement the cross-curricular work so that the whole QCDA citizenship framework is covered.

Students develop their knowledge and understanding of a topic throughout the day through practical activities. For example, a 'crime day' for year 10 started with a crime scenario acted out by students and a mock trial role-play with input from local police officers and Crown Prosecution Service representatives. In terms of citizenship outcomes, it gives students an understanding of how the law works; the role of the police, courts and juries in implementing the law; and understanding how sentences are decided. Students are encouraged to balance rights of victims and accused and discuss the difficulties of achieving outcomes that all can agree as fair. They consider their roles as citizens in terms of potentially being witnesses or jury members, even if they do not enter the legal professions or break the law themselves.

The days are supplemented with assemblies and tutor-time activities, such as a mock election on 6 May this year. Feedback from staff, students and visiting speakers helps develop the programme each year. The benefit of having a non-teacher in the coordinating role is underlined here in that there is time to access outside speakers, work with tutors to prepare materials, use staff interests and strengths to best advantage, ensure appropriate differentiation of work, and ensure the smooth running of the days.

Ofsted praise

The Ofsted report on our citizenship provision described it as "imaginative and innovative in design" and welcomed the way that, "the approach ensures that citizenship has a central place within the curriculum of a number of areas... Consequently, students regard it as a significant and integral dimension of their studies."

Inspectors also pointed to the value of links with external agencies and community partners for providing "a significant specialist contribution to the curriculum".

We believe ours is a citizenship curriculum which helps students to engage and achieve in all subjects as well as developing skills for active citizenship in adult life. Super learning days allow students to break with routine and connect with a wide range of outside speakers, as well as staff and students they may not normally work with.

The staff derive benefits too. Incorporating citizenship into the wider curriculum helps to bring the subject to life and motivate students because they are discussing real issues. There is support from a co-ordinator in planning and preparing for delivery of citizenship materials plus input from outside agencies.

In professional development terms, strands such as developing international links also broadens teachers' own perspectives on their subjects.

Tracy Horton is the personal development co-ordinator at Shirebrook School in Derbyshire.

Global thinking

At Shirebrook, global citizenship is also developed in other ways, for example through increasing the opportunities for international linking work, giving students a wider perspective on their studies.

A link between schools in the United Arab Emirates and the art department involved students producing postcards about their family and culture to share with students in UAE. This gave a sense of purpose for the art task, and offered students an insight into the family lives of their peers in other countries. Thanks to this kind of activity, the school achieved the full International School Award in 2009.

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