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A systematic review of the impact of citizenship education on student learning and achievement. Summary


The context of this review is the English education system following the introduction of Citizenship Education as a statutory curriculum subject in 2002. The conceptual framework used for Citizenship Education therefore draws upon the Crick (1998) framework, in which Crick defines citizenship education as including three distinct strands: moral and social responsibility, community involvement and political literacy. The first review in this series synthesised evidence from around the world of the impact of citizenship education on the provision of schooling: that is, on school leadership and management, learning and teaching, external relations and community, curriculum development, and school ethos and context. In addition, the impact on teachers' professional learning was considered. The implications of this review indicated that citizenship education practices and processes were related to particular approaches to learning and teaching.

This review builds on the findings of the first review to explore further the impact of citizenship education on student learning and achievement. These terms were used in an attempt to capture both the processes and the outcomes of learning that might be impacted on by citizenship education. Learning processes include those cognitive, affective and volitional processes, activities and dispositions that operate in order for students to learn. Learning outcomes refers to achievement, when that is determined by a summative assessment either by teachers, or by tests or examinations. Achievement refers to a level or standard of competence reached in a particular domain, which might be knowledge, skills or understanding in a subject of the curriculum, or in a particular behaviour or skill relating to personal or social development. It is achieved in relation to prior learning and attainment.


The aims of this review are to explore the evidence available:

  • to determine the nature of the impact of citizenship education on student learning and achievement
  • to identify the implications of this for teacher education, both initial and ongoing
  • to make recommendations for policy and practice based on these findings
  • to identify further questions that need to be addressed by research.

Review questions

The main review question was as follows:

What is the impact of citizenship education on student learning and achievement?

This was refined at the second stage of in-depth review to the following:

What is the impact of citizenship education on students' cognitive outcomes?

In order to achieve all the aims of the review, it was also considered necessary to address the following further question:

What are the implications of the findings of the review for teacher education?


Studies for inclusion in the review were identified through electronic searches, journal handsearches, website searches and personal contacts. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were systematically applied to papers firstly on the basis of title and abstract, and secondly on the basis of the full text report. Review-specific and general keywords were applied to studies meeting the inclusion criteria and included in a systematic map of the research literature. The Review Group then decided to apply a second set of criteria at the in-depth review stage to focus further on studies that reported on cognitive outcomes.

In order to report findings relevant to the review questions, the studies were grouped in the synthesis according to their relevance to the following five categories of cognitive learning outcomes grouped under the theme of developing holistic approaches to achievement:

  • meaning making
  • understanding and reasoning
  • higher order thinking
  • academic attainment
  • communication skills

and five key learning processes:

  • engagement
  • promoting discussion
  • learner-centred teaching
  • meaningful curricula
  • developing personally.


The search strategy identified 647 reports as being potentially relevant. Application of the inclusion and exclusion criteria resulted in 35 studies being identified for inclusion in the systematic map, which included four studies from the first citizenship review. The studies included in the systematic map represented a range of study types, a wide range of citizenship education across different curriculum subjects, and the full range of learning processes and learning outcomes identified by the review-specific keywords. The application of second stage inclusion criteria resulted in 13 studies being included in the in-depth review, which addressed a range of types of citizenship education and a wide range of learning processes.

In summary, the findings of this review indicate that citizenship education can be applied to most areas of the curriculum through the development of learner-centred teaching and meaningful curricula. The evidence from this review about the impact of citizenship education on student learning and achievement suggests the following:

Pedagogy appropriate for citizenship education:

  • can enhance student learning and achievement
  • may be characterised by a facilitative, conversational pedagogy, where dialogue and discussion are the norm
  • can improve students' communication skills
  • can enhance students' academic achievement
  • can engage students to seek cognitive understanding of the meaning of their personal stories and experiences when learning about lesson content and gaining awareness of others' situations
  • may lead to greater participation when lesson content is pertinent to student experiences
  • can enhance students' higher order cognitive and intellectual development
  • engages and can enhance students' meta-cognitive processes
  • allows for an increased participation and a greater interaction and may ensure a more positive experience of participation that affects student ability to make meaning of the lesson content
  • can result in statistically significant positive changes in formal operations of movement from concrete literal thinking to abstract and scientific thinking, resulting in higher levels of reflection
  • can create a co-=operative learning environment, leading to an atmosphere of trust and safety, that enhances teacher/student relationships, where teachers let go of control and listen to student voices
  • may empower students, leading to increased self-confidence, more positive self-concept and greater self-reliance
  • can engage learners as whole persons and may result in teachers relating differently to students
  • can impact on affective outcomes as well as cognitive growth in areas such as the development of self-concept, increased self-confidence and more positive behaviour.

In addition:

  • Teachers themselves may need support in order to develop expertise in facilitation and dialogue.
  • Learner-centred teaching and meaningful curricula can affect the motivation and cognitive engagement of students and require a change from traditional teaching methods and content.
  • Questioning and dialogue can encourage students in the processes of reflective searching for deeper meaning to issues and events.
  • Cognitive outcomes are achieved in relation to the affective and volitional domain and not in isolation.


Strengths and limitations

A focus on cognitive learning outcomes might be considered to be a limitation, especially since citizenship education itself, and many studies of it, are often primarily concerned with personal and social learning (and sometimes moral and political learning). However, by deliberately placing cognitive learning in the spotlight, the review findings are able to show, by means of this clearer focus, that citizenship education pedagogies and curricular experiences can result in cognitive learning, as well as personal and social learning.

Most of the 13 research studies in the in-depth review were conducted in locations outside England and beyond the United Kingdom (UK). This is also the case even when the in-depth review studies are contextualised in the broader picture of the 35 research studies, which were keyworded. Furthermore, the two studies reviewed in-depth that were conducted in England were both undertaken prior to the implementation of the citizenship education curriculum in England in 2002. Moreover, given the small-scale nature of many of the studies and the numbers of schools, teachers and students involved, the generalisability of the specific findings may be limited. However, the interrelated cluster of overlapping categories and contributory processes which have emerged in the synthesis of findings, as a result of applying the EPPI Centre review methods to the review question, gives the review's evidence strength and pertinence.

A strength of the process was the independent double-checking of judgements of inclusion/exclusion criteria, keyword applications and data extraction by reviewers, and the further sample check by EPPI Centre colleagues. On the other hand, the process can be seen as overly technicist, following a medical or economic model of data reporting, validity and reliability, whose presumed objectivity does not always fit so well with educational studies dealing with complex human interactions, learning processes and environments, and often subjective judgements about evidence of student learning.

Studies included in the review had not necessarily been undertaken to address issues close to the review question. The assessment of weight of evidence in relation to the review question enabled overall judgements to be made about the contribution of studies to the review. In this review, however, the papers were of varying quality; of those included in the in-depth analysis, a few studies were rated as having high trustworthiness and/or appropriateness or relevance, but only one was considered to have high review-specific weight of evidence and trustworthiness.

The foreshortened project deadline meant holding a meeting of the group at relatively short notice at the end of the traditional summer holiday period/ beginning of the school year, which members were unable to attend. Although written comments were invited, the timescale in effect reduced the common sharing in the consultative process. As a result, the Review Group was alone in being responsible for identifying the implications of the findings of this review for policy, practice and research.


If the findings of this review are taken seriously, they have clear implications for a radical review of the system and structure of schooling so as to incorporate citizenship education strategies to reconceptualise pedagogy as learner-centred and to develop approaches to achievement that are holistic.

Implications for policy

The findings of this review have particular implications for teachers' professional learning. In initial teacher training (ITT) and continuous professional development (CPD), there is a need for teachers to be supported to develop a richer, deeper, broader process-oriented pedagogy. This involves having an understanding and vision of learning and achievement seen from a more holistic perspective, where different kinds or categories of learning are viewed as complementary, not separate.

Implications for practice

A citizenship pedagogy, based on the key themes characteristic of learning processes identified in the review, will have at its core communication, facilitating and enabling, dialogue and discussion, encouragement to engage with learning, and relating learning to experience. This more conversational and negotiated style of teaching and learning involves mutually respectful teacher-student relationships where traditional authoritarian patterns of control are no longer appropriate. Citizenship education practices and processes that promote student learning and achievement cut across the curriculum and suggest the need for curricular flexibility, with more opportunities to develop different groupings of learners in interactive and conversational learning contexts.

Implications for research

There is a need for more interdisciplinary research, research which employs mixed methods, quantitative and qualitative, and which involves in-depth study of several schools. Studies are needed of the effects of different citizenship models and pedagogies on cognitive learning outcomes, and into ways to link such learning more carefully and systematically to complementary personal and social learning. Since citizenship education is about lifelong learning and practices, research should also investigate the interrelation between school-based learning in citizenship education and the family and community-based learning.


Crick B (1998) Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools: Final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship. London: Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).

This report should be cited as: Deakin Crick R, Taylor M, Tew M, Samuel E, Durant K, Ritchie S (2005) A systematic review of the impact of citizenship education on student learning and achievement. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education.

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