Is education effective in promoting “fundamental British values”? Not in the way the country's government expects, suggests new research showing that those with university degrees or with academic A levels show “significantly higher support” for such values than those with vocational qualifications.
But Jan Germen Janmaat, reader in comparative social sciences at the UCL Institute of Education and author of the study, told Times Higher Education that he “did not find an effect of higher education” itself in increasing people’s support for fundamental British values (FBVs) – given that similar levels of support were evident in those with academic A levels only.
“Apparently higher education doesn’t somehow add to such support, which was also surprising for me,” he said. “Usually, you see that [level of] educational attainment is so strongly related to support for all kinds of values: critical engagement, tolerance, trust.”
The study, published in the British Educational Research Journal, analyses the impact of the government’s school-focused attempts to promote FBVs in order to prevent young people from being radicalised. This policy focus has emerged in response to Islamist extremism in particular.
In the paper, titled “Educational influences on young people’s support for fundamental British values”, Dr Janmaat looks at data from a small batch of 420 individuals who took part in the Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study from their first year in secondary school through to age 23. That study “suffers from high and selective attrition”, says the paper.
The CELS data show what kind of citizenship education individuals encountered at school and also allow the “construction of a measure” of their support for FBVs “based on the latest wave of data collection” when they were 23, Dr Janmaat writes.
The measure of support for FBVs used individuals’ survey responses and gauged the strength of their support for democracy and individual liberty, for example, and of their opposition to terrorism.
The paper “finds that levels of support for FBVs among 23 year olds are already very high and do not differ between the White British majority and various minority ethnic groups, although the small sample sizes of the latter do not allow for strong conclusions about these differences”.
“Among the educational conditions, educational attainment and particularly track attended appears to be the only influential condition, with those obtaining academic qualifications showing significantly higher support for FBVs than those achieving vocational ones,” the paper says.
Dr Janmaat said the results suggested that education on citizenship and fundamental British values is currently “targeted at the wrong age group” and that it should be focused on the post-16 phase.
The government “might want to consider eliminating differences between vocational and academic tracks in educational matters relevant for developing an attachment to key democratic values”, with one option “to put in place a uniform, or largely the same, curriculum of citizenship education” across academic and vocational tracks, the paper says.