Written evidence from Dr Andrew Mycock – CCE0005




The impact of the Covid-19 cannot be overlooked, as it has had significant implications for policymaking across a wide-range of areas not directly linked to fighting the pandemic and the country’s recovery. This noted, other issues highlight the challenges in developing strategic policy approaches to citizenship and civic engagement which are addressed below.


Cross-Government champion

 Related recommendation: 1



There is a clear logic in this proposal. The Ties That Bind report recommends that the Minister should be based in the MHCLG (now DLUHC). This is consistent with the recent machinery of government changes that saw policy on the Union and Constitution move from the Cabinet Office to this department. This noted, as a recent APPG on Youth Affairs report (2021) noted, much of the policy relating to citizenship and civic engagement is located in DCMS and DfE. Regardless of where a Minister might be located, the UK government should consider establishing a new Cabinet Committee to oversee the development of citizenship and civic engagement policy to encourage a more connected and coherent approach in England. This work should also be developed on a UK-wide basis. One option would be to extend the remit of the Union Strategy Committee. This option would however locate much of this important work within Westminster. The Intergovernmental Relations Review (IGR) announced by the UK Government in January 2022 provides a potentially more inclusive and collaborative approach. A new Minister for Citizenship should have representation on one of the two new Internministerial Standing Committees and a Interministerial Group (IMG) should be established to oversee issues of citizenship and civic engagement.

There is however a need to garner cross-party support for this new post. Previous attempts to enhance cross-government coordination and delivery of strategic policymaking of policy related to citizenship and civic engagement have lacked such support and have thus been undermined by changes in government. For example, the post of the Minister for Young Citizens and Youth Engagement was created in October 2009 to lead the Labour-led UK Government’s response to the independent Youth Citizenship Commission (2008-9). The election of a Conservative-led Coalition in May 2010 saw the post abolished, and its duties transferred to the Minister for Civil Society (a post which was itself subsequently merged for the Minister for Sport in 2017).


Furthermore, there is ample experience that creating a junior minister position will not necessarily change the overall direction of government policymaking. The new Minister should be given appropriate authority and remit to facilitate coherent working across UK government departments to support integrated policymaking. There is some evidence that, since The Ties That Bind report was published, that departments have sought to better integrate citizenship and civic engagement policymaking. The overall picture is though one where work across government still lacks coherence, coordination, and connectivity in terms of overarching policy aims, delivery, or evaluation of outcomes.


As The Ties that Bind report noted, young people’s Civic Journeys are fragmented, disconnected and thus disjointed in several ways. The extent and quality of opportunities young people are provided to gain the knowledge, skills and experiences to support active citizenship varies significantly depending on where they live, their personal background and circumstances, and how and where they are educated. The Civic Journey is also fractured by a lack of connectivity between educational and age cohort transition points, with limited thought given to how interventions and programmes delivered during primary, secondary, further, and (where appropriate) higher education mesh and cohere. The lack of sustained and coherent connection and integration of formal and informal initiatives and activities in educational institutions, the workplace, democratic institutions, local communities, faith groups, and digital spaces, is in part due to an absence of systemic collaboration between UK government departments who have responsibility (sometimes shared) over these different ‘sites of socialisation’. It also highlights that although the design, delivery and evaluation of policy involves a complex mix of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders and actors, there are few mechanisms to encourage cross-sector working or knowledge-sharing to inform policy development.

A new Minister would need to acknowledge and address the growing diversity in the policy priorities and capacities of government, and also the structure and composition of civil society, across the four nations of the United Kingdom. Policymaking shaping and underpinning the Civic Journey continues to be developed without sufficient connectivity or coherence between the UK government and devolved government. For example, citizenship education is delivered in different ways across the four national education systems, NCS is largely limited to England, and the voting age has been lowered to 16 in Scotland and Wales. While divergence rightly reflects the distinctive ways citizenship and civic engagement are formulated and realised in different parts of the UK, it also underlines a lack of cohesion in how policy corresponds to underpin shared understanding of citizenship and civic identity across the UK. If not addressed, it is likely to have implications for the future strength of the Union.


Related to the previous section, inter-ministerial groups focusing on policy largely or solely related to England have a varied record of influencing policy and have often depend on the relative political capital of the Chair and members. The Government's Safe and Integrated Communities Inter-Ministerial Group inter-ministerial group was chaired by then Secretary of State for the Home Department, Sajid Javed who left the post in July 2019. The Inter-Ministerial Group was identified as integral in delivering the Integrated Communities Action Plan, published by the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the late James Brokenshire, in February 2019. However, James Brokenshire stood down from his Ministerial position in July 2019 due to ill health.

Successor Ministers in both departments have not sought to engage with the Inter-Ministerial Group or the Integrated Communities Action Plan. Lord Greenhalgh, on behalf of the UK Government, responded to the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement report (published on 28th April 2020) by noting ‘Following the General Election of 2019, the Government is considering what governance arrangements will best ensure we deliver the commitments made in the 2019 Conservative manifesto’. There has – as yet - been no formal statement on the future of inter-ministerial governance arrangements or the delivery of the Integrated Communities Action Plan. At present, it appears that the UK government does not intend to reconvene the Inter-Ministerial Group, preferring a bespoke inter-departmental approach (see, for example, Lord Greenhalgh written answer to the House of Lords on 13th December 2021).

The extent to which stated aspirations that the Inter-Ministerial Group or the Plan has connected with and complemented in the Civil Society Strategy (CSS), a ten-year vision published in 2018, is also limited. The CSS outlined a commitment to ensure all young people have opportunities to become active citizens by support citizenship education in primary and secondary schools and by fully embedding NCS within the wider youth sector. However, when the CSS was reviewed in October 2019, it made no reference to the Inter-Ministerial Group or the Plan. There appears to have been no further review of the CSS since then. It is noteworthy also that the DCMS Outcome Delivery Plan: 2021-22 made no reference to either Inter-Ministerial Group or the Plan, or the CSS. Similarly, neither a rapid evidence review of Youth Social Action (Alma Economics, 2021) nor a Youth Evidence Review (NatCen, 2021) – both commissioned by DCMS – or the Interim Report by the APPG on Youth Work published in July 2021 made reference to either Inter-Ministerial Group or the Plan, or the CSS.

It would appear that strategic ambitions of the Inter-Ministerial Group or the Plan have not survived changes in ministerial leadership in the departments who were invested in the delivery of policy or new leadership of the UK government during 2019. This does not mean that the work undertaken in 2018-19 is without merit or impact; the publications of the Plan and the establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Group were important both in terms of raising the profile of policy debates about citizenship education, NCS, and the wider challenges of developing integrated approaches to youth-focused policymaking across Government. There is however little evidence that either the Inter-Ministerial Group or the Plan have – as yet – had a direct impact on the provision of citizenship education or the effectiveness of NCS.

Citizenship Education/National Citizen Service

 Related recommendations: 9,11,13,26



If we accept that ‘levelling up’ is conceived as more than an economic regeneration agenda, citizenship education and NCS, working in a connected and integrated manner with the wider framework of school and non-school based programmes and initiatives supporting children and young people’s Civic Journeys, can play a significant role. Both citizenship education and NCS provide opportunities for young people to acquire the appropriate knowledge, skills, and experiences to become active citizens in their communities and develop a positive sense of pride and belonging. Pride in place is a critical element in shaping young people’s lives and identities as they grow up, and are realised in their schools, communities, and localities. Citizenship education and NCS, when delivered well, can reverse feelings of social, political, and cultural isolation in so-called ‘left-behind’ communities. Moreover, they can garner and motivate a sense of collective agency and empowerment amongst young people, bringing them together to make positive changes in their own lives while also contributing to the betterment of the communities they live in.


The challenge for policymakers is how to translate this aspiration into meaningful programmes and interventions that support the Civic Journeys of all children and young people regardless of where they live or their personal or community backgrounds and circumstances. A good starting point is for government to adopt the aspiration that every young person has an equal opportunity to learn about and develop the attributes, behaviours, and capacities associated with socially engaged, responsible, and active citizenship from childhood to early adulthood. As noted earlier in this submission, there are significant disparities in the Civic Journeys of young people across the UK. For example, a ‘postcode lottery’ exists whereby young people in major cities and densely populated parts of the country often have greater access to appropriate youth and community programmes and activities than their peers in rural and isolated communities. The ability of young people in rural and isolated communities get involved in volunteering, social action, and democratic participation initiatives is also limited by poor transport links (and in some cases access to good broadband coverage). The current framework of central and local government funding is complex and difficult to navigate. It can also create competition rather than collaboration between organisations for funding and duplication in provision in some areas (particularly major cities), and ‘cold spots’ elsewhere where youth focused activities and interventions are comparatively limited.


There is some evidence of work to rationalise and simplify funding streams to encourage greater collaboration between organisations and to ‘level up’ provision. Initiatives such as The Funders Collaborative Hub, the Shift the Power UK Funder Collective, and other networked intermediary funders can help in creating a funding landscape which is more equitable and able to support civil society in ‘levelling up’ both across the UK and internationally. Emerging civil society collaborations, such as the Shaping the Future with Volunteering and the Greater Manchester Youth Alliance, can complement and enhance established national and regional membership organisations and networks to enhance collaborative working across the sector. There is a need however to further develop this work, connecting national, regional, and local policymakers to these networks to encourage cross-government and multi-level partnership working across the UK. Moreover, there is potential to expand such networks further, connecting evaluation and policy work undertaken by organisations such as the National Youth Agency, UK Youth, and the Centre for Youth Impact with academic researcher networks, such as the Political Studies Association Young People’s Politics Group and the British Sociological Association Youth Study Group, to support evidence-based policymaking.


Similarly, research indicates there are significant inequalities in provision and quality of citizenship education and volunteering/social action opportunities in schools (particularly the type of school and where it is located) (Weinberg et al. 2021). Young people who continue their academic education at university are also afforded more opportunities to volunteer and get involved in social action programmes than those on apprenticeships or begin full-time work. Linking organisations such as the Association for Citizenship Teachers with the Civic Universities Network, the Trades Union Congress, and Confederation for British Industry could help in developing and sustaining the Civic Journey during youth transitions to adulthood. 


Policymakers also need to consider the challenge of ‘levelling up’ age-based inequalities in democratic voice and the influence of young people in decision-making. 16-17 year-olds in Scotland and Wales are able to vote in local and national parliamentary elections. Their counterparts in England and Northern Ireland are not allowed to vote in any election until the age of 18. Unequal voting rights for young people is unfair and goes against the UK Government commitment on ‘levelling up’. Youth representation bodies, such as local youth councils, are not universally available across the UK and do not have an equal opportunity to influence and shape policymaking. Elected representatives, such as local councillors and MPs, should host regular constituency meetings with young people to listen to them and respond to issues raised in their schools, colleges and other places of education, social action, and recreation. This could be achieved through a combination of face-to-face and online approaches (such the Politics Project ‘Digital Surgeries’ programme).



Covid has highlighted that young people feel they were largely overlooked when compared to older citizens in terms of decision-making. Research indicates that many young people feel they were not consulted about decisions that had a powerful impact on their lives, including their education, health, and future prospects (Percy-Smith et al. 2021). Pressures on the education system have meant that it is highly-likely that the already limited provision of citizenship education in many schools has further declined. Moreover, concerns about media and digital literacy have intensified during the pandemic, particularly in relation to the so-called ‘anti-vax’ movement (UNICEF, 2021). The need to ensure all young people have appropriate opportunities to support their civic literacy, engagement, and activism is acute. As noted elsewhere, the delivery of citizenship education in all schools is integral in ensuring young people are politically and media literate, and are able to navigate the internet in an informed and critical manner.


Young people volunteered their communities in significant and diverse ways while also supporting their families during the pandemic. Evaluations of NCS and other volunteering and social action programmes highlight the significant potential to encourage young people to connect, interact, and collaborate in meaningful ways that enhance community belonging, trust, resilience, and solidarity. The long-term future of NCS is however uncertain. The 2021 Comprehensive Spending review indicated that funding for NCS will be further reduced, from £158 million in 2020 to £173 million for the three-year period covering 2022-4. In response, NCS has now adopted a ‘all-year round model’ which has seen a reduction in the length of the main programme and a recalibration of focus towards digital and school-based provision. Such moves are welcome in the short term if it maintains the viability and appeal of NCS. Progressive reductions in funding might indicate however that NCS now lacks significant government support and might be slowly wound down. Such a move would risk losing significant expertise accumulated and innovation in service-learning based youth work delivery associated with NCS over the past decade. It would also raise the potential that the ‘rite of passage’ offer to all young people at a significant transition point in their Civic Journeys will be lost. There is need for the UK government to continue to support NCS to ensure it offers future generations to participate in a programme that has proven popular and impactful. But rather than being a single programme, the NCS brand should be allowed to evolve to recognise the potential that other organisations can offer 16-17 year-olds a range of opportunities that build social responsibility, enhance social mobility and facilitate social mixing. This revised approach could still be overseen and evaluated by the NCS Trust but would extend programme design and choice, thus extending opportunities for young people at this critical juncture in their lives by embedding diversity in their ‘rite of passage’ within the Civic Journey. 



A stated objective of the Civil Society Strategy (2018) was for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to work with the Department for Education to develop proposals to help young people gain the attributes needed for active and positive citizenship. There is evidence of better collaboration between some schools and NCS, both in terms of preparing and encouraging young people to consider taking up the programme. Work has also been undertaken to better promote NCS through the delivery of citizenship education, with the Association for Citizenship Teachers providing learning resources to support pathways into the programme. The limitations of the Covid pandemic have also seen NCS focus on supporting schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, in helping young people return to school after lockdown periods. NCS now also supports the delivery of citizenship education via a range of programmes (including Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) Development, Citizenship, Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, or Fundamental British Values). There is though potential to develop this work considerably, particularly in terms of integrating NCS within the Civic Journey at an earlier stage by embedding it within the Citizenship curriculum in primary and secondary schools. A National Youth Agency’s report published in 2020 outlined the potential for NCS, as part of the ecosystem of youth work providers, might enable collaborative working with schools to support and enhance youth social action.  


The new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework published in 2019 established a revised focus for inspectors when they visit schools regarding the curriculum subject of Citizenship. The new framework was welcomed by some experts (see for example Kerr, 2019), who noted that the previous framework has encouraged some school leaders to downgrade the subject. Since the autumn of 2019, schools have been asked to provide evidence of their Citizenship provision and its contribution to FBV and SMSC as an explicit part of the curriculum and in the conversations they have with inspectors. This is a welcome shift in profile and emphasis within the curriculum. This, the recent Overview of Research (2021) published by Ofsted provided scant engagement with the significant literature on citizenship education (one paragraph) and there appears to be no research review of the subject scheduled. Furthermore, the continuing absence of a subject review for Citizenship is noteworthy; Ofsted last reviewed the subject in 2013. It is imperative that Ofsted enhance the frequency and depth of their monitoring and evaluation of the delivery of citizenship education to ensure all children and young people are provided with consistent opportunities to learn about active citizenship during their period of statutory education.


The delivery of citizenship education in England is fragmented due to recent reforms in governance and funding of academy schools. The subject is not taught discretely in many academy schools, delivered instead through a range of alternative subject streams. This means there is a lack of consistency in how, when, and in what ways children and young people undertake civic learning. The National Curriculum is clearly no longer ‘national’, and policymakers need to consider what is its purpose if that it is not adopted by over half of the schools in England. This situation contributes to the ‘postcode lottery’ and inequality-based disparities in young people’s Civic Journeys. In the short term, there is potential to enhance citizenship education in all schools through their requirement to promote the SMSC development of their pupils. As part of this, school are required to actively promote the fundamental British values, including democracy and the rule of law. There is an opportunity to enhance the role of citizenship education, delivered by specialists, in all schools by drawing on the expertise of membership organisations such as the Association for Citizenship Teachers, youth democratic representation organisations, the Political Studies Association, the Electoral Commission, the vast array of democratic education social enterprises such as those connected to the APPG on Political Literacy. Developing networks of expertise can provide support for schools through teacher training, classroom resources, and activities to help deliver SMSC components relating to fundamental British Values while also raising the profile and contribution of citizenship education in terms of the Ofsted Education Inspection Framework. There are examples of where this networked approach has already had a positive impact (e.g. Kirklees Council’s Democracy Friendly Schools www.democracycommission.org.uk/democracyfriendly/ and the Democracy Classroom resource hub www.democracyclassroom.com/). In Wales, the lowering of voting age to 16 has seen the Senedd work with a new Democracy Group Cymru (www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/upgrading-our-democracy/democracy-group-cymru/) to enhance citizenship education in schools and non-school community settings.


The lack of trained citizenship education teachers in the vast majority is, as Weinberg et al. (2021, 16) recently noted, ‘shocking’ both in terms of impact on the Civic Journeys of large numbers of young people across England (and the rest of the UK) and the hugely diminished status of the subject. Lord Greenhalgh outlined in his response to the original The Ties That Bind report that the UK government viewed the prioritisation of EBacc subjects due to demands for specialist teachers in these subjects. This approach suggests that, both as a curriculum subject and as a part of the broader civic socialisation of young people in schools, that citizenship education is distinctive within the National Curriculum in that it can be delivered largely by non-specialists. Such an approach not only compromises the status of the subject, it diminishes the quality and quantity of citizenship education teaching – and therefore the potential that current and future generations of young people will adopt positive attitudes, values and behaviours as active citizens throughout their life-long Civic Journeys. The UK government must urgently reverse the decline in numbers of trained citizenship education teachers through investment in increasing their numbers to ensure that every school or college in England has at least one appropriately qualified member of staff (at primary, second, and further education levels). Schools must be democratic spaces, and this means all teachers should be trained to support youth voice and activism not just in their classrooms. The UK government must therefore also seek to support Initial Teacher Training (ITT) providers to embed modules on citizenship education within all ITT schemes to ensure the subject is successfully delivered across the curriculum and on a whole-school basis.


Concluding Thoughts


The timing of The House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement final report was unfortunate, as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic severely limited the realisation of its laudable ambitions. It has however had a significant impact in terms of connecting stakeholders and actors invested in supporting children and young people to be supported better during their transitions to adulthood. It has further enhanced connectivity and collaboration across the various ‘sites of socialisation’ where initiatives and activities are delivered. It has also encouraged a more strategic approach to policymaking across the UK government and its devolved sub-state national, regional, and local administrations. The past few years have seen the national, regional, and local ecosystems emerge to enhance policymaking and service delivery. Moreover, investments such as those undertaken by the NCS CIC to create a collaborative portfolio of projects to support innovation and evaluation in the delivery of citizenship education and NCS, and policymaking informing the Civic Journey are welcome. One final recommendation is the establishment of an annual conference bringing together policymakers from across the UK, youth work and civil society organisations, citizenship educators, academics and professional societies, funders, and young people to support strategic policy- and practitioner-focused engagement and collaboration to ensure the work of the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement continues beyond the publication of the follow inquiry report. 


Dr Andrew Mycock

January 2022

[1] Source: UK Government education statistics Academic Year 2020/21 Schools, pupils and their characteristics (last updated 6 October 2021):  https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-pupils-and-their-characteristics [accessed 15 December 2021]