Teaching children to be active citizens, by Alison Gelder

Year 8 students in a session on active listening as part of the Common Good Schools Programme

Year 8 students in a session on active listening as part of the Common Good Schools Programme

So a group of fairly powerful people met together to talk about sharing power (Better Way Round table... ) with the people we work with. Most of us acknowledged the irony of the situation and some spoke from personal experience about the challenges of practical power sharing. Some of us were able to speak from the point of view of being excluded or powerless. All of us are seeking a better distribution of power in our communities and, scaling it up, in our country.

 For me there are two key factors to think about, both of which came up in our discussion.

The first is a principle from Catholic Social Thought - subsidiarity. Subsidiarity, as we at Together for the Common Good explain it, is where responsibility is taken at the most appropriate level. So decisions should always be taken as close as possible to where they will have their effect. A central authority should perform only those tasks, take only those decisions, which cannot be performed or taken at a more local level. Since responsibility for decision-making implies power to take decisions, this means that power should be vested as close to the action as possible.

However, and this is my second factor, there is little point in devolving power and responsibility for a decision to individuals or a community organisation if they do not also have the resources, energy, training, headspace to take it on. Which is where T4CG’s Common Good Schools programme comes in.

The ten session Common Good Schools programme enables young people to take personal responsibility, to value community and each other, and shows them how to put the principles of the Common Good into practice. By fostering local engagement, the programme helps to position a school as a force for the Common Good in its local neighbourhood. For example, a school in Liverpool hosts a weekly lunch club in the school for local elderly people. A local resident makes soup and pupils from years 9 and 10 serve the food, building inter generational relationships.

Grounded in Christian social teaching but communicated in non religious language, this programme enhances moral, spiritual and character education, encouraging independence of thought and enabling young people to discern their unique vocation in relationship with others. Common Good Schools is a linked set of lesson plans, assemblies and community engagement activities designed for KS3 and 4 (and probably also usable for Year 6 but this hasn’t been tried yet). The lesson plans are very flexible and can be incorporated into RE lessons alongside other material or even run in a shortened form in Tutor time.

At the Roundtable, as we reflected on the difficulties people sometimes face in taking or exercising power one of us came up with the phrase ‘a sense of constructive entitlement’. To me this would be the opposite of the benefit/welfare dependency or the scrounger mentality that is scapegoated in the tabloid media or poverty porn reality TV. And again it links with a key aspect of our work at Together for the Common Good; the idea that each of us has our own vocational responsibility, and that reflecting on and practicing Common Good principles can help us to understand what it is and how to better live it out.

Through the CGS programme, which is currently being piloted in Battersea and Tulse Hill, young people are developing a sense of their own value as human beings located in a community and with unique gifts and skills, as well as of the importance of their particular participation in the building of the Common Good.


Alison Gelder is Director of Operations at Together for the Common Good. For more information on this programme click here.