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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.7 “Learning to participate” through formal, non-formal and informal learning

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 11/11/2020 - 00:23

On this page
  1. Policy Framework
  2. Formal learning
  3. Non-formal and informal learning
  4. Quality assurance/quality guidelines for non-formal learning
  5. Educators' support

Policy Framework


All maintained schools must meet the requirements set out in section 78 of the Education Act 2002 and promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of their pupils. Academies are subject to the same requirements under The Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010.

Through ensuring pupils’ SMSC development, schools can also demonstrate they are actively promoting fundamental British values. These, as set out in the Government’s 2011 ‘Prevent’ strategy are:

  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual respect
  • tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.

From 1 July 2015, a wide range of public-facing bodies, including all schools, colleges and universities, became subject to the ‘Prevent’ duty became law. This is a duty to have due regard to preventing people being drawn into terrorism. Specific guidance (England and Wales) for early years providers and schools and further education institutions and higher education institutions is available.

Under the Teachers’ Standards 2011, teachers must demonstrate that they are not undermining fundamental British values.

  • The Department for Education issued guidance in 2014 on promoting British values in schools as part of their pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development.

Formal learning



Citizenship is a compulsory subject only at key stages 3 (age 11-14, ISCED 2) and 4 (age 14-16, ISCED 3). Although set out as a separate subject in the National Curriculum, citizenship can be taught through other subjects, in particular Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, which is a curricular requirement. There is no requirement for citizenship to be taught post-16.

The aspects of citizenship which should be taught to pupils include:

  • the roles played by public institutions and voluntary groups in society, and the ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities
  • human rights and international law
  • diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding
  • the different ways in which a citizen can contribute to the improvement of his or her community.

Education for 16 to 19 year olds is qualification-led rather than curriculum-led and the National Curriculum does not apply to post-compulsory education. In post-compulsory full-time secondary education, aspects of citizenship education may be embedded in the general objectives and values of the education system (see 'Policy Framework'), but there are no requirements for subject-based citizenship teaching.

The qualification most commonly taken by 16 to 19 year olds is the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (A Level).

Currently, one exam board, AQA, offers an A Level in Citizenship Studies. The government has a document that outlines the subject criteria for citizenship studies for GCSE and A Level. You can read this here. 

The GCSE course in Citizenship Studies builds on the programmes of study in general lower secondary and primary education. AQA describes the subject as the following: 

Citizenship Studies specifications allow students to apply their learning to real-life scenarios on both a local and global scale. Citizenship Studies provides the opportunity for students to work individually to develop their own knowledge and also encourages students to work with others and take part in group activities to bring about a change. From GCSE to A-level our Citizenship Studies specifications offer a clear route of progression, building on the relationship between the individual, the law and the state, and the nature of identities.

Exam boards, AQA and Edexcel, offer an A Level in Government and Politics. According to both specifications, students will develop skills for citizenship and encourages participation:

AQA specification:

  • At AS Level, students will develop a broad understanding of the UK’s political system, with specific focus on People, Politics and Participation, and Governing Modern Britain.  
  • At A2, there is a broad choice of options for teachers to select, this includes, US Politics and Political Issues: Ideologies in Action. 

The Edexcel specification offers a similar course: 

  • At AS Level, students will gain an understanding of the existing arrangements and structures that facilitate British representative democracy and participation; and government processes and institutions within the UK.
  • At A2 Level, there is a broad choice of options for teachers to select. This includes, UK Political Issues, Political Ideologies, and Global Political Issues. 

There are also vocational qualifications available which cover aspects of citizenship, for example the Certificate in Public Services which includes a unit in citizenship and diversity and the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness which offers a module in citizenship and community.

Note: Full-time education is compulsory for all young people up to the age of 16. Young people must then opt to do one of the following until the age 18:

  • stay in full-time education, for example at a college
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training.

Non-formal and informal learning


The Education Act 2002 gave the Government powers to prescribe regulations for school councils by order but it has so far preferred encouragement to prescription. Encouraging the involvement of students is underpinned by the general principles of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and Article 12 in particular, which the Government has regard to (see 'Formal Mechanisms of Consultation').

In statutory guidance issued in 2014, the Department for Education identified one of the benefits of involving children and young people in decisions that affected them as being that:

It encourages pupils to become active participants in a democratic society - by holding youth parliaments and school councils which develop skills such as co-operation and communication and encourage them to take responsibility.

Research published in 2007 and carried out for the then Department for Children, Schools and Families, found that nearly all (up to 95 per cent) of schools in England and Wales had a school council. It is up to individual schools to decide whether or not to set up a school council, what form it should take and what powers it should have.

School councils are only one of the possible means of involving students. Schools use surveys and questionnaires on particular issues, or regular general consultation across the school, as well as formal meetings between pupils and staff, pupils and the head and pupils and governors.

The Association for Citizenship Teaching, the professional subject association for citizenship, offers a continuous professional development (CPD) module in 'Student Voice and Citizenship'. It also provides resources for teachers to use in their lessons. 

Other initiatives/programmes for developing young people's’ social and civic competences include:

  • the National Citizen Service
  • the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award
  • #iwill
  • the Discovering Democracy Award
  • Mock trials.

The National Citizen Service (NCS) is a government-backed initiative that brings together young people aged 15 to 17 from different backgrounds to help them develop greater confidence, self- awareness and responsibility with a view to creating a more cohesive, responsible and engaged society (see ‘National Programme for Youth Volunteering’ for details of the scheme). Schools and colleges are encouraged to promote NCS to their students as schools and colleges can work with NCS providers to help students develop the skills that will support their economic and social participation. Government backing means that involvement in NCS brings no extra costs to schools or colleges. Each participant pays a contribution of up to £50 and bursaries are available on a case by case basis. Support is provided for young people with additional needs.

Until 2017, the Cabinet Office provided funding for the National Citizen Service (NCS).  European Social Funds (ESF) were also used to support the NCS. alongside contributions from programme participants, who pay £50 each. After the passing of the National Citizen Service Act 2017, which made the NCS Trust a Royal Charter Body, the Government provides grant-in-aid funding to the NCS within a strengthened system of accountability. The Government will expand NCS to serve 360,000 participants a year in 2020, at an estimated cost of £1.26bn over the course of the Parliament (ending in 2020). The government announced in March 2020 that the budget (Comprehensive Spending Review) 2020 would be delayed to enable the government to remain focused on responding to COVID-19, therefore there are no further funding figures available at the time of writing (September 2020). The NCS Annual Report 2018-19 states total funding of £55.4m was received by NCS Trust in the four month period to 31st March 2019 which included £55.2m of grant in aid from DCMS.  

In October 2019 the NCS rebranded, and expanded its delivery network to include hundreds of partners. The NCS Trust advised that programme costs are expected to reduce by 30 per cent in real terms by 2024 but has been criticised by the Local Government Association for receiving a disproportionate amount of government funding while funding for local youth services continues to be cut. 

In 2020, the NCS summer programme was adapted to an online programme to align with social distancing rules guidelines due to COVID-19. You can read more about the digital hub, Staying Connected, here

The Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award programme is a youth achievement award for 14 to 24 year olds, aimed at fostering social and employability skills. Schools, colleges, universities, youth centres, youth organisations and businesses may become involved in running the programme. Participants are aged 14 to 24 and complete a programme of activities in four or five sections that involve, among other things, helping the community or the environment. 

#iwill is the national campaign youth social action. It is supported by HRH The Prince of Wales and run by the  Step Up to Serve charity. Through collaboration and partnership, it promotes the benefits of youth social action, with the aim of involving as many 10 to 20 year olds as possible by the year 2020. #iwill asks for pledges of support from education providers, employers and business leaders, the voluntary sector and public bodies in this work. Details of this are set out in its pledge guidance document. (See ‘National Programme for Youth Volunteering’) for further details.

Through collaboration and partnership, the #iwill campaign is 'spreading the word' about the benefit of youth social action, working to embed it in young people's transition to adulthood and creating fresh opportunities for participation. #iwill asks for pledges of support from education providers, employers and business leaders, the voluntary sector and public bodies in this work. Details of this are set out in its pledge guidance document. One of the key priorities for the #iwill campaign in 2020 is a youth-led communications campaign outlining achievements since it began in 2013, and to explore youth social action growth post-2020. This priority is in the context of Step Up To Serve, the time-limited charity coordinating the #iwill campaign, closing as planned in December 2020. 

The government-funded Discovering Democracy Award, run by the British Youth Council, was launched in September 2015. It is an award to recognise exemplar secondary schools which prepare their students to be full and active participants in democratic life from a young age.

The Bar Mock Trial Competition offers students in years 10 to 13 (ages 14-17) the opportunity to take part in criminal mock trials in real courts. Students take on the roles of barristers and witnesses and present their case against teams from other schools. Their performances are judged by Circuit Judges, Recorders and senior barristers or advocates who volunteer their time. The competition is run by the Citizenship Foundation and sponsored by the General Council of the Bar of England and Wales, the four Inns of Court and the local Bar Circuits. It has been running since 1991. In that time, more than 53,000 young people have participated in the competition. Further information on the competition is available from the Citizenship Foundation.

Furthermore, in the Democratic Engagement Plan, it states the government plan to explore further initiatives and programmes to provide extra-curricular education and resources on democratic engagement, through the Suffrage Centenary Fund. (See ‘Scope and contents’, in the article on ‘National strategy to increase youth participation’). 


Local authorities (LAs) have a statutory duty (see the article on 'National Youth Law') to secure sufficient services and activities for young people aged 13 to 19 (and those with learning difficulties to age 24) and to improve their well-being. They may provide in-house services, partner with other organisations or commission services. While partnerships are encouraged it is a matter for individual LAs as to what partnerships they engage in.

Funding of any partnerships is through the general budgets of schools and local authorities and not through specific funds.

Youth work and education

At school level, a National Youth Agency Commission into the role of youth work in formal education found that forward thinking schools and academies value their role as a hub for the whole community. However, this still represents the minority of schools and there is much scope for greater collaboration between both [education and youth] sectors. In keeping with the Government’s localism agenda, there is no uniform, national picture of engagement between them across the country. Increasing numbers of academies means also that autonomy at school level is increased.

The Commission also found that while youth workers were engaging with formal education in a variety of ways, there was a move towards increasingly targeted provision for the most vulnerable young people and away from 'open access' provision.

Typical areas of youth work activity in schools include:

  • drop-in programmes
  • participation work
  • one-to-one support
  • advice and guidance
  • delivery of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) and Sex and Relationship Education (SRE).
  • See Chapter 10 Youth Work for more information.

Quality assurance/quality guidelines for non-formal learning

Participation in schemes such as the Duke Of Edinburgh’s award (see Non-formal and informal learning above) can provide evidence of how these competences are being developed.

Educators' support

The Five Nations Network supports sharing of practice in education for citizenship and values in England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The network is managed by the Association for Citizenship Teaching and offers workshops, conferences and funding for small research projects.

The Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) is the subject association for citizenship. It is a membership organisation for teachers and others involved in citizenship education. It is the main provider of professional development and networking opportunities, including professional development days, training, an annual conference and tailored programmes of school-based CPD.

An extensive range of citizenship CPD modules is freely available on ACTs website, as well as teaching resources.

ACT also awards a quality standard for citizenship education and a quality mark for citizenship teaching resources.

The Citizenship Subject Expert Group comprises teachers from primary and secondary schools, the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT), the Citizenship Foundation, the Parliamentary Education Service, Young Money (formerly known as Personal Finance Education Group), higher education and Initial Teacher Education. Ofsted are also represented at meetings.  The Expert Group has compiled a list of resources for teachers, including resources for post-16.

Young Citizens developed a collection of teaching resources for different stages of education, including the 16 to 19 year old category.

The UK Parliament’s Education Service provides free training and support for trainee teachers and teachers of political literacy-related subjects. Training may be offered via webinars or in schools. Seminars and other CPD events are also held at Westminster as well as courses for trainee teachers and placements. Teaching resources and lesson plans are also available on the website. The ‘Parliament Explained’ podcast, produced by the UK Parliament, is a series of six episodes explaining what Parliament is, how it scrutinises the work of the government and how people can get involved with its work. Note, however, that the podcast is not specifically aimed at young people.

The Government has developed an ‘Educate Against Hate’ website with advice and resources to protect children against extremism and radicalisation.