Only 38% of Year 10 students feel safe expressing their views regarding social and political issues in their school, a national survey has revealed.
Providing rare insight into the experiences of more than 3,000 Year 10 pupils in mainstream secondary schools across England, today’s findings released by a team of researchers at the University of Birmingham as part of an ongoing study into Youth Engagement with Race & Faith at School, also reveal that three-quarters of 14- and 15-year-olds report learning most about political issues from social media.
The survey conducted between January and July 2023 showed that there are substantial proportions of young people who are concerned about how accurately their community is portrayed and how well the school addresses bullying, racism, and religious intolerance.
The survey shows that many young people feel their teachers listen to them and support them. However, there are significant concerns amongst young people about how the schools deal with race and faith issues in practice, and about how safe and respected they feel. These concerns impact on the likelihood of young people having access to ‘free speech’ at school.Professor Karl Kitching, University of Birmingham
Less than half (47%) of the students surveyed agreed that the history of people from their racial or ethnic background is accurately taught in their school. And 40% disagreed that their school teaches about real issues and problems affecting their lives.
61% of pupils from Black African, Black Caribbean or Black British backgrounds and 55% of pupils from Asian or Asian British backgrounds saw the unfair treatment of ‘people like me’ on the basis of skin colour, ethnicity, religion, or nationality as a big problem in England. Notably, 37% of pupils from White backgrounds also took this view.
When classmates say something that they strongly disagree with, the majority (52%) stated they might keep their feelings private and only 34% agreed that most pupils treat each other with respect.
Lead author of the study funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Professor Karl Kitching, Professor of Public Education in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham comments: “We have seen significant debate about ‘free speech’ focused on university campuses. But the government has at the same time cautioned schools about engaging certain race and faith equality issues, and has done little to support schools to address such issues.
“The survey shows that many young people feel their teachers listen to them and support them. However, there are significant concerns amongst young people about how the schools deal with race and faith issues in practice, and about how safe and respected they feel. These concerns impact on the likelihood of young people having access to ‘free speech’ at school.
“The study demonstrates how important race and faith equality issues are to 14-15-year-olds. Yet many schools are negotiating issues such as Israel-Palestine in the absence of meaningful state support. The study shows the need for government to support and resource schools to create a climate to engage political issues through constructive, critical, youth-led approaches, instead of solely through top-down measures such as the recent political impartiality guidelines. It also shows the real-world issues facing young people need to be addressed via the curriculum, rather than solely through pastoral or safeguarding measures.”
More information about the Youth Engagement with Race & Faith at School study can be found here.