Education, civic values and civic participation

This project explores the relationship between education and civic values and behaviour among adults and teenagers in Britain, Ireland and other European countries.

Education, social attitudes and social participation among adults in Britain

A stable finding of research on civic participation is the correlation between overall educational attainment and various attributes that are relevant to democracy, such as propensity to be active, to vote, and to hold views on important public issues. But research since the 1990s has suggested that we should be cautious about this inference. The most important difficulty is that rising overall levels of education, while probably making populations more liberal, have not make them more likely to vote. Even that conclusion may be too general, because the content and style of an educational course is relevant. More problematic still are questions about the nature of the citizens which education might help to create: is education democratically desirable because it makes people think, or because it makes people socially liberal (which is the general tenor of most of the writing on this topic)?
The paper therefore asks what kind of education matters for social attitudes and civic participation by adults? Several British data sources are used, mainly the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohorts, the British Social Attitudes Survey and the British Household Panel Study.

Policy relevance:
This area of work is important because it addresses a question as old as democracy itself: what are the cultural and cognitive pre-requisites for democracy to yield good government?

Outputs associated with this research:
Paterson, L. (2014), ‘Education, social attitudes and social participation among adults in Britain’, Sociological Research Online, 19 (1)

Paterson, L. (2016), AQMeN Research Briefing 11 – Why Education Matters for Democracy

Neighbourhoods, schools and student involvement and behaviour within and outside school

Departing from the idea that school’s democratic climate can influence intended political engagement and based on previous research showing that working-class students are less likely to perceive the classroom climate as open when discussing political or social issues, one of the studies under this theme uses data from 18 European countries provided by the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) 2009 to answer research questions such as: Is student involvement greater or less in working-class schools? Does the involvement vary by country? Does the relationship between background (or school social mix) and input vary by country? Is student involvement less in tracked systems or in systems with more school choice?
Another study under this theme looks at the influence of school and neighbourhood social composition on misbehaviour inside and outside school. The data richness of the Growing Up in Ireland and the school choice patterns in Ireland allow to disentangle school and neighbourhood effects alongside individuals’ parental background.

Policy relevance:
This research can guide policy-makers and practitioners seeking to understand how the interplay between individuals’ background and structural factors such as school and neighbourhood characteristics shape young people’s involvement and behaviour within and outside school. More specifically, this research can inform decisions related to school policy, including disciplinary policy, pedagogy, and teacher-student and peer relationships.

Outputs associated with this research:
Smyth, E. (work in progress) ‘Student involvement in school decision-making: does social background make a difference?’

Smyth, E. and Williams, J. (2016) ‘Space to act out? Neighbourhood and school influences on behaviour within and outside school’, paper presented at the AQMeN International Conference on Rediscovering Inequalities: Exploring the Interconnections between Crime, Education and Urban Segregation, Edinburgh, 26-27 October 2016.

Lindsay Paterson
Emer Smyth