Citizenship education in Northern Ireland – An opportunity not yet realised?

The Integrated Education Fund (IEF) has welcomed the publication of the latest briefing paper from the Ulster University UNESCO Centre that looks at Citizenship education in Northern Ireland – An opportunity not yet realised.

Dr Clare McAuley, Lecturer in Education, UNESCO Centre Ulster University says:

The hope was that the introduction of Citizenship education would help to foster a more peaceful, tolerant and socially cohesive society in Northern Ireland after the dark years of ‘the Troubles’. However, 15 years after Citizenship education became a statutory curriculum requirement, it remains a subject about which little is known, there is limited shared understanding or commitment to its purpose, teachers generally favour teaching the ‘global’ aspects over the potentially more contentious ‘local’ dimensions.

In a recent survey of 16 year olds in Northern Ireland, 24% reported they had not any ‘classes or assemblies, done projects or had class discussions’ on the ‘NI conflict’.[1] It would seem, therefore, that Citizenship education is in a poor state of health and, as division between the two main communities continues to permeate everyday life in Northern Ireland, this deficit in school learning related to the ‘NI conflict’ leaves potentially partisan narratives unchallenged and wider society unchanged. It has been said that ‘in education not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts’.[2]

Surely, it is young people who count and it is they who deserve a rounded and relevant education in local and global citizenship.  In the post-Brexit era, and at a time when a referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland may be looming, the future direction of our society will rest in the hands of young people as the next generation of the electorate. In that context, education in Citizenship cannot be left to chance or be seen as an ‘add on’. Young people need, deserve and are entitled to be properly prepared to participate as active informed citizens, equipped with the skills to engage with the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead in a diverse society.”

 Commenting on the paper, IEF Chief Executive, Tina Merron says:

The purpose of this briefing paper was to provide a succinct overview of Citizenship education in Northern Ireland and discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with this. The paper concludes with recommendations on how to recalibrate Citizenship education to realise its transformative potential. There is an urgent need for the review of the deliver of Citizenship education within Northern Ireland.  This paper is timely as it will feed into the Independent Review of Education as well as help inform education policy in the next mandate of the Northern Ireland Assembly”

[1] S Smith, A., O’Connor, U., Bates, J., and Milliken, M. (2019) Citizenship Practices and Political Literacy in Young People, Research Update .

[2] Cameron, W.B. (1963) Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking. New York: Random House. p 13.


The paper can be accessed here.