English pupils 'less tolerant on immigration'

Image caption,
All secondary school pupils currently have to study citizenship

School pupils in England have less tolerant attitudes to immigration, and are less interested in news than their international peers, a study finds.

The research showed a hardening of attitudes on immigrants, jail sentences and benefit payments as students in England got older.

The National Foundation for Educational Research also found that English pupils' knowledge of the EU was poor.

But it found that regular citizenship classes could raise civic involvement.

The final report from The Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study, showed a mixed picture of the civic engagement, attachment, understanding and attitudes of young people in England.

'Broadly tolerant'

The research tracked the attitudes of some 24,000 pupils over nine years, as they aged from 11 to 18.

It showed that over time, the cohort experienced a hardening of attitudes towards refugees and immigrants, jail sentences and benefit payments.

It also showed their trust in politicians declined.

The researchers also compared the attitudes of English teenagers with those of their international counterparts.

This revealed that English pupils had attitudes which were "broadly democratic and tolerant", the study said.

But "their tolerance of immigration is well below the international average and their view of European migration is particularly critical," the researchers said.

English pupils had a "low" level of interest in social and political issues, the study found.

The report's authors noted that this is an international trend, but that English young people had a level of news media interest significantly below the international average.

Pupils in England scored significantly above average in the international test of civic knowledge and understanding when compared to all participating countries.

But when compared only to their European counterparts, their performance was average.

Their knowledge of the European Union was significantly below that of other pupils in Europe, with English pupils scoring the worst on many questions of all 24 member states that took part in the study.

Pupils in England had a strong sense of national identity, which outweighed their sense of European identity.

'Weakening attachment'

The research also showed a weakening of English pupils' attachment to their communities at local, national and European level, although their attachment to their school communities remained strong.

Trust in social, civil and political institutions also remained high, although 33% reported in the latest survey that they do not trust politicians "at all" - up from 20% at age 11.

The findings indicated that when citizenship education learning is delivered in slots of more than 45 minutes per week on a regular basis, it can improve young people's chances of positive involvement in civic activities.

It also suggested that this can lead to young people feeling more able to make a difference to their communities.

Citizenship became compulsory for pupils aged 11 to 16 in September 2002 and a GCSE is available in the subject.

In the citizenship classes, young people learn about democracy and justice, the structure of political systems and how to function in that structure.

Curriculum shake-up

But Education Secretary Michael Gove has said he wants to slim down the national curriculum.

On Sunday he told the BBC that "hundreds of pages of prescription" aimed at teachers would be removed.

The Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) last month said it understood that citizenship will be made non-statutory in the coming curriculum shake-up.

It fears this will mean the end for a subject which, it says, chimes with the Conservatives' "Big Society" idea.

The government said it had not decided the future status of any subject.

Millicent Scott, Development Manager at the ACT said citizenship education, when taught well, equipped young people with the skills to appreciate the intricacies of controversial issues:

"The future health of British democracy will only be secure if we have an active, engaged electorate who participate in public life. Citizenship education supports the development of these skills."

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said citizenship classes were "a very important part of education"

But she said many schools struggle to find sufficient time to teach it properly.

"Also, as the report suggests, teachers need to have access to training in order to be able to teach the subject effectively," she added.

Citizenship education is statutory in some form in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and is one of the national priorities for education in Scotland.

Pupils in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland were not included in the study.

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