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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

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

Last update: 25 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 09/10/2020 -

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

The Scottish Government’s programme for government for 2020-21 states:

Although young people have been negatively impacted by this [COVID-19] crisis, we know they are full of many ideas and aspirations for Scotland and we also know that young people, working with Government and partners, can spearhead creative approaches and positive change that can help our service providers and communities recover well from COVID‑19. Therefore, as one of the most impacted groups we want to hear their views. We will engage with young people

On transport issues as well as across other areas of life.

The Curriculum for Excellence (see ‘Formal learning’), which underpins all learning for 3- to 18-year-olds, emphasises developing values, making informed decisions and promoting positive attitudes.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 introduced a duty on schools, further education colleges and higher education institutions to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This is also known as the ‘Prevent’ duty and is one of four elements of CONTEST, the UK Government's counter-terrorism strategy. Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland has been issued by the UK and Scottish Governments, as well as sector-specific guidance for further education colleges and higher education institutions in Scotland. Resources to support schools are provided by Education Scotland.

The standards for registration as a teacher, published by the General Teaching Council for Scotland in 2012, say that the professional values and personal commitment core to being a teacher include:

Valuing as well as respecting social, cultural and ecological diversity and promoting the principles and practices of local and global citizenship for all learners (p.5).

The standard for Initial Teacher Education, published by the General Teaching Council for Scotland in 2006, specifies what is expected of newly qualified teachers and makes a number of references to citizenship education. In particular, it sets out the expectation that teachers must have acquired:

the knowledge and understanding to fulfil their responsibilities in respect to cross-curricular themes including citizenship, creativity, enterprising attitudes, literacy and numeracy, personal, social and health education and ICT, as appropriate to the sector and stage of education (p.7).

Formal learning

Citizenship is a non-statutory component of the Scottish curriculum. It is not viewed as a separate subject; rather it is seen as a cross-cutting theme.

The framework for citizenship education is provided by the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ (CfE). This is a coherent, flexible and enriched curriculum covering the ages of three to 18, which is designed to inform all education, wherever it takes place.

The purpose of the CfE is encapsulated in four capacities: to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor.  Responsible citizens have respect for others and a commitment to participate responsibly in political, economic, social and cultural life. They also have the capability to:

  • develop knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland’s place in it
  • understand different beliefs and cultures
  • make informed choices and decisions
  • evaluate environmental, scientific and technological issues
  • develop informed, ethical views of complex issues.

CfE is described in terms of eight broad curriculum areas: Expressive arts; Health and wellbeing; Languages; Numeracy; Religious and moral education; Sciences; Social Studies; Technologies. The expectations for learning are set out as 'experiences and outcomes' for each broad curriculum area.

Citizenship is one of the themes which needs to be developed in a range of contexts. For example, learning in the Social Studies will enable students to:

  • develop their understanding of the history, heritage and culture of Scotland, and an appreciation of my local and national heritage within the world
  • broaden their understanding of the world by learning about human activities and achievements in the past and present
  • develop their understanding of their own values, beliefs and cultures and those of others
  • develop their understanding of the principles of democracy and citizenship through experience of critical and independent thinking
  • explore and evaluate different types of sources and evidence
  • learn how to locate, explore and link periods, people and events in time and place
  • learn how to locate, explore and link features and places locally and further afield
  • engage in activities which encourage enterprising attitudes
  • develop an understanding of concepts that stimulate enterprise and influence business
  • establish firm foundations for lifelong learning and for further specialised study and careers.

‘Global Citizenship’ (encompassing sustainable development, international education and education for citizenship) is also a cross-cutting theme in the curriculum.

Schools decide for themselves how learning for curriculum areas is to be organised and the time to be spent on them.

The senior phase, which covers the final three years of secondary school (compulsory to the age of 16) and which from 16-18 may take place outside school, is the phase when young people build up a portfolio of qualifications. It combines qualifications and curriculum activities which develop the four capacities (see above). 

Scottish Government guidance to support the planning, design and delivery of the curriculum, Building the curriculum 4 (2009), sets out skills for learning, life and work (SfLLW) and shows how they are embedded in the experiences and outcomes and the senior phase. The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) used the SfLLW framework to develop National Qualifications which complement Curriculum for Excellence.

According to SQA, citizenship includes having concern for the environment and for others; being aware of rights and responsibilities; being aware of the democratic society; being outward-looking towards society; being able to recognise one’s personal role in this context; and being aware of global issues and understanding one’s responsibilities within these, and of acting responsibly. Qualifications offered by the SQA which help to develop civic and social competences include:

  • The National 5 Modern Studies Course (level 5 of Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework, or SCQF). This aims to develop learners' knowledge and understanding of contemporary political and social issues in local, Scottish, United Kingdom and international contexts. Learners also engage with discussions about the changing nature of political systems through studying democracy in Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Detailed course specifications for level 5 and the other levels at which the qualification are available on the SQA website. They explain the overall structure of the courses, including their purpose and aims and information on the skills, knowledge and understanding that will be developed.

  • The Higher Politics Course (level 6 of the SCQF). This aims to develop learners' ability to analyse political ideas, events, issues, parties and electoral performance. Learners gain knowledge and understanding of individual rights, duties and citizenship, of significant political concepts and ideologies, and of the complexity of political systems through comparative study.

A detailed course specification is available on the SQA website.

Note: Education is not compulsory post-16.

Non-formal and informal learning

 The Scottish Government has regard to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and Article 12 in particular. This supports the involvement of students (see Formal Mechanisms of Consultation).

School (Pupil) councils

Under the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, students have a right to be involved in the decisions made by schools. Pupil councils [also referred to as school or student councils] are a response to the legal and policy requirement for participation, but the precise form and workings of pupil councils are not specified.

According to Education Scotland (p.13), ‘nearly all schools engage learners in the democratic process through participation in bodies like Pupil Councils and Eco committees.’

Involvement in the community

How Good is our School? (2015), produced by Her Majesty’s Inspectors within Education Scotland, which helps schools in their self-evaluation and improvement, states that one feature of ‘highly effective practice’ is that:

There is evidence that children and young people are applying and increasing their achievements through active participation in their local community (p.51).

As part of citizenship education, beyond the formal curriculum, schools also ask pupils to demonstrate good citizenship through practical acts including:

  • environmental work (e.g. helping their school become an Eco-School – see below)
  • taking part in community projects
  • fundraising and other charitable activities
  • mock school elections.

Eco-Schools is an international initiative designed to encourage whole-school action on sustainable development education issues. It is an environmental management tool, a learning resource and a recognised award scheme. It empowers young people to take action towards an economically, socially and environmentally just world. Over 98 per cent of Scotland's local authority schools now participate in the initiative.

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. 

Partnership working

Community Learning and Development (CLD) is the term used to refer to the wide range of programmes and activities in formal and non-formal learning, which are organised at local level. Delivered in partnership with voluntary and community organisations, as well as educational establishments, CLD aims to improve life opportunities for young and adult learners and their families and adults, and to strengthen communities. A briefing issued by Education Scotland in 2013 looks at the role of CLD and partnership working.

Note that since the passing of The Requirements for Community Learning and Development (Scotland) Regulations 2013, local authorities have been required to develop a three year plan outlining how community learning and development (CLD) will be delivered in their respective areas. There has been a revised guidance note on community learning and development planning for the period 2018 to 2021. For more information, visit Education Scotland website. See 'Young people's participation in policy-making' for further details.

Youth work and education

The National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019, developed jointly by the Scottish Government, Education Scotland and YouthLink Scotland, sets out the policy directions for improving outcomes for young people through youth work.

The strategy supports youth work organisations and the youth work sector in Scotland to continuously engage with young people and other professionals through collaborative ventures with schools, colleges and other bodies providing services for young people. The strategy states that:

Strengthening partnerships between school staff and youth work practitioners remains a priority for [the] Curriculum for Excellence programme, particularly within the planning and delivery of the senior phase (ages 15-18) (p.12).

For information on the National Youth Work Strategy 2020-2025 read 5.5 ‘Existence of National Strategy’ and 5.10 ‘Current Debates and Reforms’.

In 2012 YouthLink Scotland published Young People and Curriculum for Excellence: Building Capacities through Youth Work. This looks at how youth work supports the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence and explains more about the extent and structure of the curriculum. It includes several case studies.

YouthLink Scotland has developed the Participatory Democracy Certificate, which is worth two credits at SCQF Level 5 and involves 20 hours of learner activity. In order to obtain the certificate, young people must actively participate in decision-making in groups, developing their communication, decision-making and participation skills in the context of democratic engagement. Further information about the certificate can be found on the YouthLink Scotland website.

Other initiatives aimed at developing social and civic competences

The Bar Mock Trial Competition takes place across the UK and offers students 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 assessed by judges who volunteer their time. The competition is run by Young Citizens (the umbrella organisation for the Citizenship Foundation’s youth-focused work), and supported in Scotland by the Faculty of Advocates. It has been running since 1991. In that time, more than 53,000 young people have participated. Further information on the competition is available on the  Young Citizens website.

Youth Scotland, a network of youth clubs and groups across Scotland, also provides several training programmes for young people, enabling them to get involved in the management and leadership of their local groups and communities and to develop their skills and confidence to be able to take part in decision-making. Further information about these projects can be found on the Youth Scotland website.


Quality assurance/quality guidelines for non-formal learning

Education Scotland’s How Good is our School? (last updated in 2015) provides a suite of quality indicators that support staff in all sectors to look inwards, to scrutinise their work and evaluate what is working well for learners and what could be better. The framework is designed to be used to support self-evaluation and reflection by practitioners at all levels. Quality Indicator 2.7 (Partnerships) aims to capture the school’s success in developing and maintaining strong partnership approaches which improve outcomes for learners and continued self-improvement for the school and community.

In 2016, Education Scotland published an updated version of How Good is the Learning and Development in Our Community? Evaluation Resource. This outlines an approach to self-evaluation for managers and practitioners working directly with young people, among others. A set of quality indicators and performance measures help practitioners identify the strengths in their practice and where further development is required. The indicators include ‘Impact on Learners’ and ‘Partnership Working’. Demonstrable outcomes are shown for each indicator, together with an illustration of what very good performance would look like.

Between 2009 and 2016, HM Inspectors evaluated youth work provision in a school catchment area by participating in Learning Community inspections. This approach linked the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence capacities both inside a school and in the wider community.

Educators' support

The Education Service of the Scottish Parliament has resources to help with teaching the Modern Studies curriculum in schools. It also has resources for teaching Citizenship. Although these are aimed at primary and lower secondary level students, some activities could also be used with older groups.

The Education Service of the Scottish Parliament also offers a course for teachers and educators in Political Literacy. It is offered in partnership with Scotdec and makes use of the resources developed by Education Scotland. It also runs sessions on teaching about the Scottish Parliament.

Education Scotland, the national body for supporting quality and improvement in learning and teaching, provides a political literacy resource, called ‘You decide’. It supports teachers and professionals working with young people to develop understanding, skills and participation related to political literacy. This includes, but not limited to: voting and democracy, political parties, local government, and rule of law. 

Education Scotland also provides a collection of resources for National Qualifications in Politics and National Qualifications in Modern Studies.

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