Children and citizenship
Home Office online report 08/04
Citizenship: young people’s perspectives
Jean Hine, Francesca Lemetti and Sara Trikha
Home Office Development and Practice Report 10
Children in high deprivation, high crime neighbourhoods live
more restricted and risky lives than other children, and feel they
have very few options open to them, or control over their
The 400 children in these linked studies for the Home Office by
researchers from Sheffield university lived in 11 different areas,
all of them part of the On Track crime reduction programme. They
were generally positive about the areas they lived in, though they
had plenty of ideas about how they could be improved. First among
these was the lack of safe places to play for younger children, and
lack of things to do for teenagers. Another major concern to all
children was litter and other rubbish including dumped cars and
furniture which were often vandalised and set on fire.
Many of the neighbourhoods had ethnically diverse populations,
and children described experiences of racism and expressed their
own prejudices about other groups and individuals.
Teenagers were widely experienced as threatening by younger
children, and effectively seemed to control the limited open space
that was available to them to meet and play. Teenagers themselves
felt trapped in a place where there was little for them to do, few
safe places to meet friends and in a community of adults who did
not like them. Yet they didn’t have the money to go anywhere
Many children had witnessed crimes including gun crime, both by
adults and teenagers. “There is a danger that such familiarity can
lead to acceptance of these behaviours,” say the authors.
The biggest complaint by children, especially in relation to
school, was that they were not listened to, important issues for
them were treated as trivial by adults, and their views were not
treated with respect. Some schools had councils or other systems
for consulting children, but many children believed these were
tokenistic. They were frustrated that their views and ideas were
not taken seriously by adults.
Children and young people who lived in these neighbourhoods
generally understood the reasons for rules and accepted that most
were necessary, both at home and at school. But they didn’t
accept them unquestioningly, and some they ignored if they felt
they were silly, or applied unfairly, or not enforced.
Children often raised the point that different standards were
expected of children and adults within the school environment,
which they perceived as unfair. For example, while they were
expected to wear black clothes every day the teachers could wear
what they liked.
Children on the whole respected their teachers and looked to
them for models of how to behave. Children were very sensitive to
teachers using double standards, for example, by shouting at
children when the school had a no shouting rule.
Children had a clear understanding of notions of right and
wrong, but older children made judgments about degrees of
“wrongness”. For example, younger children said that stealing
anything including a bag of crisps was wrong, though older children
believed it was more wrong to steal something of high value than of
low value, and some approved of stealing small things. But children
were easily able to identify with victims of crime, and suggested
ways people who had committed a crime could make amends.
The study also found that children and young people of all ages
were interested in current affairs, and got information from TV,
newspapers and radio but expressed cynicism about formal politics
and politicians, often fuelled by lack of knowledge. The
researchers suggest that the introduction of citizenship into the
curriculum should improve their understanding of the political
process, but argue that an important part of citizenship education
is learning to participate in decision making in school itself.
These schemes must be genuinely participatory, if they are not to
cause further cynicism.