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Title: Post-16 education and training in England as a force for division in youth political learning and practice
Author: Ridley, Rebecca
ISNI:       0000 0004 5990 6149
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2016
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This doctoral study examines young people’s political learning and participation across post-16 education and training pathways (upper-secondary school) in England. This study is prompted by recent research from across Europe and in the UK, which finds that young people who have pursued vocational pathways after the age of sixteen tend to engage less in politics (mainly voting) than their contemporaries who have taken academic pathways. Whereas the literature on the relationship between education and political participation has largely focused on the level of education, this study differs in that the focus is on the type of education pursued at post-16 (e.g., vocational or academic). While research finds that the taught curriculum and particular classroom and social practices (e.g., open classroom climate) can have a positive effect on young people’s political participation, these aspects have rarely been examined in relation to post-16 education or training pathways. Of the few studies which have examined political learning in relation to education type in other countries the general picture to emerge is that while academic programmes explicitly and implicitly encourage the qualities required for political engagement (e.g., critical thinking), vocational programmes tend to focus more on social competence and good behaviour. This study is therefore unique since it focuses explicitly on the experiences of young people’s political learning on different post-16 pathways both through their lessons and their wider school or college in England. Likewise, in terms of political practice, politics is examined in relation to not only conventional forms such as voting and political party membership, but also alternative forms (e.g., ethical shopping). To examine this topic in the context of England a mixed-methods approach was employed (survey, focus groups, interviews, and political ‘selfies’ – a visual method). Data were collected from young people in eight different types of post-16 education and training institutions in the South of England. These included three sixth-form colleges, two school sixth-forms, an independent college (academic-oriented), a further education (FE) college and a specialist training centre (vocational-oriented). The findings demonstrate differences in terms of political learning experiences. Some of the main findings suggest that those on academic-oriented courses tend to report more positively in terms of having participated in political discussions in their lessons and having taken part in practice activities such a voting in school, compared to their contemporaries on vocational courses. However there are anomalies, the results suggest that there may be differences in learning for those on lower level vocational courses and those on higher levels courses (specifically in terms of classroom climate). Likewise, it is those at the FE College that report the most positively on measures relating to experiences of student voice. Although there are some differences in terms of political practice (e.g., those on vocational courses report less interest in politics), there are also similarities across the post-16 schools and colleges visited. The study finds that many young people are dissatisfied with conventional politics and that they have a lack of political knowledge about conventional political parties and voting. A central recommendation of this study is therefore to reinvigorate the policy debate for a baccalaureate-type post-16 education in England. This type of curriculum would include a core programme of learning for all young people that would encourage socio-political learning. This could potentially help to limit inequalities in political learning across schools and colleges at post-16.
Supervisor: Muijs, Roland Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available