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Young people and citizenship education: The impact of studying for the GCSE Citizenship Studies on young people’s democratic engagement and participation

Professor Matt Henn from Nottingham Trent University explains the project

Who are we and what are we trying to find out?

This project has been commissioned by the Association for Citizenship Teaching, and includes an academic team led by Professor Matt Henn (Nottingham Trent University), who is working alongside  Professor James Sloam from the Royal Holloway, University of London and Dr Ana Nunes, also from Nottingham Trent University.

Members of the research team have spent over 25 years conducting research in the field of young people’s engagement in democratic life.  They each have long-established track-records in this area, having published widely on the topic and worked on projects with partners such as the British Academy, the Greater London Authority and Nottingham City Council. 

There is a large body of literature that has drawn connections between education and democracy (Galston 2001). For instance, evidence from research studies indicates that politically literate citizens are more likely to participate in democracy, and schools and colleges can play a key role in preparing young people for democratic life (Flanagan and Levine 2010; Henn and Foard 2012) and reduce inequalities of democratic participation based on young people’s socio-demographic background, especially their social class, gender, and ethnicity (Pontes, Henn and Griffiths 2019; Sloam, Kisby, Henn and Oldfield 2021).This new project will enable us to draw upon our collective experience and expertise to examine what impact studying for the GCSE Citizenship Studies has upon young people’s levels of democratic engagement and participation in the UK – for example, their voting behaviour and their interest in politics. 

Why is this research important?

Young people’s relationship with democracy in countries like the UK has become an important theme for academics and policy-makers in recent decades (European Commission 2009; House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee 2014; Youth Citizenship Commission 2009). Much attention has been paid to falling levels of voter turnout and other political participation methods as well as a generalised decline in engagement with political and social institutions in established democracies (Sloam and Henn 2019).

Who should get involved?

Our aim is to conduct research with a diverse sample of 16-18-year-olds through an online questionnaire survey which can be accessed at: Working with schools and colleges across the UK, we will record a broad and diverse range of young people’s voices across the country. This survey closes on 20th December 2024.

How do you get involved?

We would invite schools and colleges to support this research project by sharing our online questionnaire survey link with their young people:

Ideally, we would ask you to arrange specific sessions in scheduled classes, in which your students would complete the anonymous questions via the link above and submit their results directly to the research team. 

Alternatively, it would be very much appreciated if you would promote the survey to your students outside of lesson time and encourage them to complete this using the link above.

How will the data be used and what will be shared?

This research project will lead to the creation of a unique dataset of empirical evidence that will help to clarify:

  1. the potential value and impact that studying for the GCSE Citizenship Studies may have on youth participation in democracy;
  2. the role that the GCSE Citizenship Studies can play in reducing social inequalities of democratic engagement and participation (see above).

The results will be written up in a research report and presented to the Association for Citizenship Teaching so that they may inform national and local policy communities about the merits of extending and enhancing citizenship teaching. And we would also be very happy to share the results with you and your students if you are happy for us to do so.

The data that we collect from this online questionnaire will be stored securely in a password protected private account so that only the members of the research team and the Association for Citizenship Teaching will be able to see the raw data. All questionnaire answers submitted will be completely anonymous, and it will not be possible for anyone to identify survey participants from the research.

16-18 years old? Complete the survey here