Some fascinating new research conducted by NFER into Citizenship Education
shows that teenagers trust teachers a great deal more than politicians. It appears too that their faith in teachers has risen considerably over the last decade. In stark contrast, young people's belief in politicians is declining, with few thinking that our politicians have their best interests at heart. This huge study tracked 18,000 young people from age 11 to age 18, over the period 2001-2009 and is still on-going. Other people our teenagers trust the most are their families and, to a lesser extent, the police. But it appears that the "expenses" scandal and the perception that our politicians are meddle too much have contributed to their rock-bottom rating.
Somewhat ironically, the newest findings suggest that teenagers are becoming more and more politically minded as they grow older, particularly in Years 12 and 13. It seems that while they hold politicians in low regard, they are anxious to change things, becoming more involved in fund-raising for charities or supporting causes they believe in. The findings indicate that teenagers show a marked increase in support for human rights over time and that they also become less sexist and more concerned about gender inequality as they grow older. Schools play a major part in promoting their civic participation in a huge range of activities, from picking up litter to staging fund-raising events.
The research also shows that students from more literate, wealthier homes are more likely to be "civic-minded" and get involved with their local communities.
More worryingly, the study also shows that teenagers are becoming less tolerant of asylum seekers and immigrants than their counterparts at the beginning of the decade.
Clearly, there is still work to be done in the area of Citizenship Education (CE) but this authoritative study should silence its critics. For the first time ever, we have solid evidence that CE is really working. CE certainly shouldn't be junked by the Coalition government. This could happen not only because the government doesn't seem to value subjects which are "un-academic" but also because it's keen for its National Citizen Service to take off. The pilots for this programme will happen this year; it looks like it's going to be a very rigid programme which will mostly be full of "outward bounds" type activities and with community service only being a small part of it.
A more cheaper and more effective option than instituting a National Citizen Service for every sixteen-year-old would be firstly to make sure that all the Rural Studies and Outdoor centres, many of which are run by cash-strapped LAs, are not shut down. Secondly, Citizenship Education could be beefed up throughout the country; we know now that when specialist teachers are leading it then it's really effective and its benefits are felt many different areas. We now know our CE teachers are doing a fantastic job in promoting civic participation. Let's now give them more support in this vital task. Citizenship Education is making our society a better place to live in.