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29 November, 2010

Students not confident in ability to influence politics, but confidence can improve with citizenship

Democratic Life is calling on the Secretary of State for Education to pay heed to two new pieces of research that highlight the need for high quality citizenship education lessons in schools, taught by specialist teachers.

The studies published today, both conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and commissioned by the former Department for Children, Schools and Families, examine the civic attitudes and practices of, and the impacts of citizenship education on, secondary school pupils in England.

The results of the IEA International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) show a complex picture of young people's attitudes and understanding of their societies and their role within them and highlight a strong relationship between civic knowledge and participation. The research finds that students with higher civic knowledge are more likely to participate in society.

The outcome of the ICCS survey in England, which was conducted by NFER, has shown some interesting comparisons between English teenagers and their international and European counterparts:

  • A large proportion of pupils in England expect to vote in future elections, but most do not expect to take part in higher intensity forms of civic engagement, such as joining political parties and contacting politicians;
  • Pupils in England have views and attitudes that are broadly democratic and tolerant. However, their tolerance of immigration is well below the international average and their view of European migration is particularly critical;
  • Pupils in England have low levels of confidence in their personal efficacy (ie their ability to influence political issues).

While some of the data coming out of the ICCS is worrying for those concerned with young people's engagement with civic society, the final report from the Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study (CELS), also carried out by NFER, indicates that citizenship education could hold the key to dealing with many of the issues identified by the ICCS. In particular, the CELS report found that citizenship education can have a strong positive impact on the extent to which young people feel able, as individuals, to make a difference and influence the government.

Young people in the CELS cohort who are more likely to have positive attitudes towards civic and political participation have attended a school where citizenship education is:

  • Delivered in a discrete slot in the timetable for over 45 minutes per week;
  • Developed by teachers who are delivering the citizenship curriculum rather than the school's PSHE coordinator;
  • Formally examined (eg through GCSE in Citizenship Studies);
  • Delivered regularly throughout the young people's educational experience.

Commenting on the research findings, Lee Jerome from Democratic Life and Chair of the ACT Council said, ‘The final report of CELS confirms what Democratic Life and its members have been saying for many months: citizenship education can have incredibly positive impacts on young people when it is taught by specialist teachers and given enough time in the curriculum. If the Government is serious about the Big Society and increasing citizens' civic participation, it is clear that they must make the teaching of citizenship education in schools a top priority'.

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