23 SES 04 A, Education and Political Systems
This paper explores the complex relationship between the state, civil society and education through comparative research in France and the UK (in this case, Wales). In many countries, and in the UK in particular, there has been an increasing ‘de-statification’ of education. Most research has focused on marketisation and privatisation, but relatively little research has focused on the growing involvement of the voluntary sector in education and what this might mean for young people’s current and future engagement in civil society.
France and the UK provide two important contexts in which to explore these issues as the relationship between the state, the education system and civil society is very different (Green 1990). This difference can be traced back to the contrasting development of their education systems. France’s highly centralised education system was put in place much earlier than in the UK and was geared to nation-state building. By contrast, throughout most of the 19th century it is difficult to speak of an education system in the UK at all – either in terms of centrally organised provision or a national remit. Education was largely provided by the voluntary sector and private schools. The legacy of this remains – over one in five state-funded schools are still controlled by either the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Church. And such state control as developed during the 20th century is now gradually being reduced.
Again the same contrasting traditions of liberalism and state control can be seen in the patterns of voluntary activity and membership. For example, two different analyses (Anheier & Salamon, 2001 and Schofer & Fourcade-Gourinchas 2001) both explain the comparative rates of volunteering in terms of the different cultural repertoires of countries. In both studies, Britain’s relatively high levels of volunteering are seen to be related to a liberal third sector which stimulates voluntary sector activity and participation. In both, France’s more statist approach leads to a voluntary sector that is less pronounced.
It is against this contrasting political and historical background that we sought to examine young people’s engagement with civil society in Wales and France, whether they place greater trust in the voluntary sector or the state and what the implications of increasing voluntary sector involvement in education might mean for their future relationship with civil society.
The data we draw on in this paper are derived from two questionnaire surveys undertaken in the academic year 2016-2017 – one in France and one Wales. The Welsh survey was undertaken as part of larger project on the intergenerational transmission of civic participation in Wales. Here, we draw on data from a subsample of the larger set. This subsample comprises a total of 227 students from two schools in South Wales which have been selected to achieve the best match our French sample. Data from the French sample were collected from 211 students from one lycee in Lyon, in the Rhone-Alpes region of France. The data were collected with a combination of an online survey undertaken in class in France and with the use of tablets in Wales. The data were collected through the media of French, English and Welsh. The questions covered a wide range of issues, ranging from their own engagement in civic and political activities, the role of the school in fostering this engagement, their perceptions of the benefits of charities and the relative merits of the state and civil society in addressing social needs.
There are strong contrasts between our two groups of young people. The Welsh students have far higher levels of civic engagement – in terms of donating money, fund-raising and volunteering – reflecting the extent to which charities have been ‘mainstreamed’ into education in the UK (Power & Taylor 2018). The French students, on the other hand, have far higher levels of what might be considered ‘political engagement’ – in terms of campaigning, petitioning and demonstrating. Accounting for these differences is complex – and is likely to relate not only to historic differences but also to the increasing role that has been given to the voluntary sector in citizenship education in the UK. The implications of increasing voluntary sector engagement in education only be highly speculative. Nevertheless, on the basis of the data from Wales, it would appear that greater involvement of charities in schools does not lead to greater levels of civic engagement. In spite of their higher levels of engagement with charities, our Welsh students are less positive about charities than their French counterparts. They are also equally negative about the capacity of the state to address social problems. By contrast, our French students are not only more positive about charities in general, but are also more positive about the efficacy of the state. This investigation demonstrates the enduring differences between the UK and France in young people’s civil and political engagement. These differences have their roots in contrasting traditions of the state and the voluntary sector involvement in education. It may be that these differences are being eroded as levels of voluntary sector activity increase in France. If this is the case, it may well mean that levels of political engagement decrease. This is likely to have far-reaching consequences.
Anheier, H. K. and Salamon, L. M. (2001). ‘Volunteering in cross-national perspective: Initial Comparisons’. Civil Society Working Paper 10. London: LSE Centre for Civil Society. Available on http://www.lse.ac.uk/CCS/home.aspx Green, A. (1990) Education and State Formation: the Rise of Education Systems in England, France and the USA. London: Macmillan. Power, S. & Taylor (2018) The mainstreaming of charities into schools. Oxford Review of Education (10.1080/03054985.2018.1438255). Schofer, E., & Fourcade-Gourinchas, M. (2001). ‘The structural contexts of civic engagement: Voluntary association membership in comparative perspective’, American Sociological Review, 806-828.
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