International citizenship survey shows England’s teenagers have a strong sense of national identity but poor civic knowledge of the EU
22 November 2010
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. Although the vast majority expects to vote in national elections, political parties were the least trusted civic institution. The study highlights a strong relationship between civic knowledge and participation, with students with higher civic knowledge reporting greater likelihood to participate in society.
The outcome of the survey in England, which was conducted by NFER, has shown some interesting comparisons between English teenagers and their international and European counterparts.
Knowledge of the European Union (EU) amongst pupils in England is significantly below that of other pupils in Europe. Across many questions, pupils’ awareness is the lowest of all 24 participating European countries. Teachers in England have low confidence levels in teaching about European issues and the EU.
Pupils in England scored significantly above average in the international test of civic knowledge and understanding when compared to all participating countries. However, when compared only to their European counterparts, their performance is average.
Pupils in England have a strong sense of national identity. They also demonstrate a degree of European identity although their sense of British identity outweighs this. They support harmonisation of social and environmental policy in Europe but are sceptical about further economic or political unification.
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.
There is a high level of trust in the police, the armed forces, schools and national government, but low levels of trust in, politicians and political parties, EU institutions and the media.
Pupils in England have a low level of interest in social and political issues. This is an international trend – however, it is notable that they have a level of news media interest that is significantly below the international average. They also have low levels of confidence in their personal efficacy – their ability to influence political issues.
Pupils in England, as in other countries, are much more likely to participate within their schools than they are to take part in community activities.
A large proportion of pupils in England expect to vote in future, however; most do not expect to take part in higher intensity forms of civic engagement, such as joining political parties and contacting politicians.
Pupils’ civic knowledge, attitudes and engagement are influenced by a range of factors. At school an open climate of discussion and debate and a school ethos that encourages active pupil engagement in decision-making have a positive influence on pupils’ civic outcomes.
There are many implications for citizenship education policy and practice in England that arise from the ICCS study, including addressing the low scores in matters such as tolerance of immigration; knowledge of EU policies and practices and strengthening the ability of teachers to address such topics. Schools, and the citizenship curriculum, have an important role to play in helping pupils to improve their knowledge and understanding of the local, national, European and worldwide community in which they live as well as providing a secure environment where pupils are encouraged to express opinion, to debate and to participate in decision making.
NFER’s Professor David Kerr, the Associate Research Director for ICCS, with responsibility for the ICCS European Report says:
‘With many countries interested in how best to prepare young people to be active, informed and responsible citizens, England’s participation in the ICCS study allows us to compare the civic knowledge and attitudes of young people in England with those in other European and international countries. It shows a mixed picture. On the one hand, it highlights a deficit in pupils’ civic knowledge about the EU, their negative attitudes toward immigration in Europe and lack of community participation. On the other, it reveals that young people will vote and do participate in school. It also confirms the positive influence of school ethos and of opportunities for pupils to discuss and participate in school on their civic knowledge and engagement.’
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Notes to editors
ICCS is a large-scale study of pupil knowledge and understanding, dispositions and attitudes, which is administered across 38 countries worldwide. There is an International Report and a European Report, which focuses on European specific civic and citizenship issues. The results are based upon England’s national dataset, with reference to international- and European-level findings, and to findings from the IEA Civic Education Study (CIVED), which took place in 1999.
In 2006 the, then, Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF), commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to coordinate the administration and analysis of England’s participation in the IEA International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS).