Citizenship Education in England, Ireland and Northern Ireland

David Kerr, Stephen McCarthy, Alan Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The 1990s have seen a resurgence of interest in citizenship education in the UKand Ireland. Within the UK, interest in citizenship education has been fuelled by the Labour government's commitment to a process of devolution and the establishment of new legislative Assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This has given rise to renewed debate on issues related to nationality, identity and citizenship in each of the constituent countries of the UK. Alongside this, there is a growing concern within each of these jurisdictions to understand how a sense of citizenship might be maintained within a context of increasing social, cultural and political diversity. In England in 1998 an Advisory Group on Citizenship, under the chairmanship of Professor Bernard Crick, issued its final report, Education forCitizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools. One outcome has been the introduction of citizenship education for pupils in all schools from September 2000 for 5- to 11-year-olds and from September 2002 for 11- to 16-year-olds. The English citizenship curriculum has three main strands (Social and moral responsibility; Community involvement; and Political literacy).The Republic of Ireland has had a longer involvement in the development of civic education. A pilot project between 1993 and 1996 led to the introduction of a new curriculum programme in Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) in all secondary level schools from September 1997. CSPE is a course in citizenship based on human rights and social responsibilities. It aims to develop active citizens who have a sense of belonging to the local, national, European and global communities. The course incorporates seven key concepts (democracy, rights and responsibilities, human dignity, interdependence, development, law and stewardship) and is taught through four units of study (The Individual and Citizenship; The Community; The State; Ireland and the World). In terms of its constitutional status, Northern Ireland is part of the UK, yet geographically it is part of the island of Ireland. For historical and political reasons it has a Unionist and Loyalist population (predominantly Protestant) that wishes to remain part of the UK and a Nationalist and Republican population (mainly Catholic) that seeks to be part of a unified Ireland. Competing loyaltiesbetween British and Irish identities have been a feature of the violent conflict in Northern Ireland for the past 30 years. However, the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in April 1998 led to the establishment of new, democratic structures as part of an emerging `peace process' and guaranteed equal status to British and Irish identities. This is the context in which current plans for the introduction of citizenship education in the Northern Ireland Curriculum are taking place.This article describes recent developments in civic and citizenship education in each of these situations, highlighting the differing political contexts in which they have arisen and how these have influenced definitions of civic and citizenship education as part of new curriculum programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-192
JournalEuropean Journal of Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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