As young people in England show hardening attitudes to immigration and a lack of trust in politicians, how can citizenship education help to engage them in their communities?
22 November 2010
The final report from The Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study (CELS), carried out by NFER, shows a mixed picture of the civic engagement, attachment, understanding and attitudes of young people in England. The findings indicate that when citizenship education (CE) learning is delivered in discrete slots for more than 45 minutes per week and on a regular basis, it can have a positive effect on young people’s chances of positive citizenship outcomes. It also suggests that this can lead to young people feeling more able to make a difference to their community.
Since 2001, the study has tracked the attitudes of a nationally representative group of over 24,000 pupils from age 11 to 18 assessing the short-term and long-term effects of the CE they have received.
Over time the young people have become less tolerant in practice towards equality and society, with a hardening of attitudes towards refugees and immigrants, jail sentences and benefit payments.
They show a weakening attachment to their communities (local, national or European), although their attachment to their school community remained strong.
Although their trust in social, civil and political institutions remains high, 33 per cent reported in the latest survey that they do not trust politicians ‘at all’ (up from 20 per cent at age 11).
Their civic and political participation has increased over the course of the study, with young people taking part in charitable and community activities. They expect to continue this participation into adulthood and over 75 per cent anticipated that they would vote in a general election.
Attitudes towards participation are influenced by personal benefits: the young people surveyed tended to associate ‘good’ citizenship with being law-abiding and with taking an interest in or taking part in their communities. However, when asked why they take part, they tended to be motivated by the prospect of personal benefits rather than by a sense of duty.
They are aware of the impact of politics on their lives but feel only moderately that they can influence political and social institutions – what is termed ‘political efficacy’.
Schools and teachers require sufficient support and training to embed CE and give it the status and legitimacy in needs in order to help young people to have positive attitudes and intentions towards civic and political participation. The report makes a number of recommendations to improve the effectiveness of CE such as the increase of external examinations in the subject; that the classes should be taken by teachers specifically trained in the subject and not joined in with Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), and that CE should be taught through to age 18.
NFER’s Professor David Kerr, the Research Director of CELS, says:
‘CELS provides a fascinating picture of the emerging civic attitudes and values of young people in England. It reveals a generation who want to participate in society but currently distrust politicians, lack community attachment and don’t feel that they can influence developments. Some young people also have negative attitudes toward equal opportunities and certain groups in society. Above all, CELS highlights the important role that citizenship education and schools can play in helping young people to form positive attitudes to civic engagement and participation.’
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Notes to editors
In 2001 the former Department for Education and Skills (DfES) commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to investigate the impact of citizenship education (CE) on the learning experiences and outcomes of pupils.
The Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study (CELS) is an independent and longitudinal evaluation of the implementation and impact of statutory citizenship learning on students and schools in England. Findings are based on an analysis of the longitudinal survey of a cohort of young people who were followed from age 11 to 18.