Increasing civic engagement has been a recurring theme in political and public debates in England over the past twenty years.1 This continued concern has led to a wide range of public inquiries and policy initiatives, many of them targeted at young people and schools (see HM Government 2010). Of these, perhaps the most ambitious was the effort to introduce citizenship education into the curriculum as a formal subject for the first time. In 2002, Citizenship became a statutory part of the National Curriculum, and it became obligatory for secondary schools to provide education about citizenship to all students aged eleven to sixteen.2 Prior to this, it was left to schools to decide when and how to teach citizenship (or not), and there was no official national policy to guide teaching and learning in this area. As Kerr (1999:204) put it:

The history of citizenship education in England [was] a mixture of noble intentions which [were] then turned into general pronouncements, which, in turn, [became] minimal guidance for schools. The avoidance of any overt official government direction to schools concerning political socialisation and citizenship education can almost been seen as a national trait.

In this context, therefore, the introduction of Citizenship into school curricula was a radical and ambitious departure. A similarly ambitious intent underpinned the policy framework itself. The introduction of Citizenship was preceded by a consultation process and a review of the aims, roles and effectiveness of citizenship education (QCA 1998). This review was conducted by the Citizenship Advisory Group (CAG), which declared that:

We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the critical capacities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting; to build on and to extend radically to young people the best in existing traditions of community involvement and public service, and to make them individually confident in finding new forms of involvement and action among themselves.

(QCA 1998:7–8)For the CAG, the ultimate goal of this policy reform was to increase political literacy and active, responsible participation, both in the political and in the civic spheres, and at community, national, European and global levels. The CAG felt that recent policy discussions had been “strangely silent” on these issues, and that political literacy and participation needed to be at the heart of any new policy developments (Kerr 2003:4).