Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Citizenship Education as Placebo: 'standards', institutional racism and education policy

By David Gillborn


The issue of 'Institutional Racism' briefly rose to the top of the policy agenda when, in 1999, the British government was faced with a damning report into the circumstances surrounding the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence (an 18 year old Black college student). The official inquiry found evidence of institutional racism throughout the London police force and argued that all key agencies in society, including education, had a duty to identify and combat racism (including unintended and indirectly discriminatory actions). This paper examines the evidence of institutional racism in the English educational system and argues that the promotion of citizenship education, as a solution to this problem, acts as a placebo in terms of policy intentions and outcomes. Citizenship education is now a required component of the national curriculum that must be taught by all state funded schools in England. It is constantly highlighted by policy makers as a major innovation that promotes social cohesion in general, and race equality in particular. At the same time, however, the government has continued to pursue a so-called 'standards' agenda that emphasizes a hierarchy of schools based on their students' performance in high stakes tests and promotes increased selection that is known to disadvantage Black students. Consequently, the principal education policy strategies are themselves revealed as potentially racist by the government's own definition. It is in this context that the promotion of citizenship education can be seen as a public policy placebo, i.e. a pretend treatment for institutional racism that gives the impression of action but is, in fact, without substance or effect. Meanwhile, the excesses of racialized educational inequality not only continue, but in some cases worsen

Year: 2006
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (ed.)(1994) Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader.
  2. (Eds)(2001) Racism: Essential Readings. London, Sage publications.
  3. (2002). Ability Grouping in Schools. London,
  4. (2005). After 7/7: Sleepwalking to segregation. Text of a speech given by CRE chair Trevor Phillips on 22nd September to the Manchester Council for Community Relations.
  5. (2000). Anti-Racism: from policy to praxis, in Bob Moon,
  6. (1999). Asian Children at Home and at School.
  7. (1997). Black Masculinities and Schooling: How Black Boys Survive Modern Schooling.
  8. (1967). Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in
  9. (2000). Blind Memory: Visual Representations of Slavery
  10. (2003). Blunkett revels in straight talking image. Can be viewed at
  11. (2000). Citizenship and Democracy
  12. (1999). Citizenship, democracy and political literacy,
  13. (2000). Code of Practice on Reporting and Recording Racist Incidents in Response to Recoomendation 15 of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report. London, Home Office.
  14. (2001). Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team. London, Home Office.
  15. (1999). Critical Antiracism in South Africa, in S. May (Ed.)(1999) Critical Multiculturalism: Rethinking Multiculturalist and Antiracist Education.
  16. (1993). Critical Introduction,
  17. (1999). Critical Multicultural Education and Students’ Perspectives, in S. May (Ed.)
  18. (1999). Critical Multiculturalism and Cultural Difference: Avoiding Essentialism, in S. May (Ed.)(1999) Critical Multiculturalism: Rethinking Multiculturalist and Antiracist Education.
  19. (1997). Critical Race Theory and Education: history, theory, and implications.
  20. (2004). Critical Race Theory: what is it and what use is it to British antiracism? Paper presented as part of the keynote symposium,
  21. (1992). Cross Curricular Work in Secondary Schools: Summary of Results of a Survey Carried Out in 1992: Report to Participating Schools. London,
  22. (1990). Curriculum Guidance 3: The Whole Curriculum. York,
  23. Education & Employment (DfEE)(1997) Excellence in Schools. Cm 3681.
  24. Education & Employment (DfEE)(1998) New Report Points The Way To Citizenship Education For All Pupils.
  25. (1999). Education & Employment (DfEE)(1999) Press Release 90/99.
  26. Education & Skills (DfES)(2003) Youth Cohort Study: The Activities and Experiences of 16 Year Olds: England and Wales.
  27. (2002). Education for Citizenship, Diversity and Race Equality: A Practical Guide. London, Citizenship Foundation.
  28. (1986). Education for Some: The Educational & Vocational Experiences of 15-18 year old Members of Minority Ethnic Groups.
  29. (1997). Exclusion from School and Racial Equality. London, Commission for Racial Equality.
  30. (2000). Heidi Safia
  31. (2003). Identity Traps or How Black Students Fail: the interactions between biographical, sub-cultural, and learner identities, doi
  32. (2000). Including Parents? Education, Citizenship and Parental Agency. Buckingham,
  33. (1998). Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?
  34. (1992). Multicultural Antiracist Education After ERA: Concerns, Constraints and Challenges. Slough, National Foundation for Educational Research.
  35. (1999). Multicultural Citizenship, Multicultural Teaching,
  36. (2004). Multicultural Education: Historical Development, Dimensions, and Practice,
  37. (1999). Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism in a New ERA: a critical review’,
  38. (1994). Multiethnic Education: Theory and Practice. Third Edition.
  39. (1990). Multiplying Inequalities: The Effects of Race, Social Class, and Tracking on Opportunities to Learn Mathematics and Science.
  40. (1982). Multiracial education in Britain: from assimilation to cultural pluralism’,
  41. (2004). New Directions in Multicultural Education: complexities, boundaries, and critical race theory,
  42. (2005). Please stop fetishising integration. Equality is what we need.
  43. (1977). Race and education in Britain 1960-77: an overview of the literature,
  44. (2000). Race and Ethnicity in Modern Britain.
  45. (1998). Race is … race ain’t”: an exploration of the utility of critical race theory in qualitative research in education,
  46. (1992). Race Relations in the Primary School.
  47. (1990). Race’, Ethnicity and Education: Teaching and Learning in Multi-Ethnic Schools.
  48. (1995). Racism and Antiracism in Real Schools: theory . policy
  49. (1993). Racism and Education: Research Perspectives. Buckingham, Open University Press. 17 Gillborn Citizenship Education as
  50. (1998). Racism, Gender Identities and Young Children: Social Relations in a Multi-Ethnic, Inner-City Primary School.
  51. (2001). Racism, policy and the (mis)education of Black children, in Richard Majors (Ed.) Educating Our Black Children: New Directions and Radical Approaches.
  52. (2000). Rationing Education: Policy, Practice, Reform and Equity.
  53. (2002). Ready for a racial policy?
  54. (1996). Routes of Racism: The Social Basis of Racist Action.
  55. (1986). School processes - an ethnographic study,
  56. (2002). Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with
  57. (1999). Social Exclusion and the Politics of Opportunity: a mid-term progress check. London, Department for Education and Employment.
  58. (1996). Social Focus on Ethnic Minorities.
  59. (1984). Social psychology and the politics of racism. In
  60. (1990). Speaker’s Commission on Citizenship
  61. (1998). Streaming, Setting and Grouping by Ability. Slough, National Foundation for Educational Research.
  62. (1999). The black-white gap in examination results: a statistical critique of a decade’s research,
  63. (1987). The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain.
  64. (2003). The more things change… Educational Research, Social Class and ‘Interlocking’ Inequalities. Professorial lecture series.
  65. (1996). The Schooling of Children of Caribbean Heritage.
  66. (2002). The Souls of White Folk: critical pedagogy, whiteness studies, and globalization discourse,
  67. (1999). The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. CM 4262-I. London, The Stationery Office.
  68. (1964). The Symbolic Uses of Politics.
  69. (1999). the year of institutional racism,
  70. (2000). Toolkit for Tackling Racism in School.
  71. (1996). What Do We Know About the Grouping of Pupils by Ability? A Research Review.
  72. (1992). Young, Female and Black.
  73. (1988). Young, Gifted and Black: Student-Teacher Relations in the Schooling of Black Youth. Milton Keynes,

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.