What are the gender, class and ethnicity of citizenship? A study of upper secondary school students’ views on Citizenship Education in England and Sweden


  • Laila Nielsen School of Education and Communication, Jönköping University, Sweden
  • Ralph Leighton Cantenbury Christ Church University, UK




The purpose of this article is to examine and compare how the ethnicity, gender and social class conditions of citizenship influence, and are understood by, teachers and secondary school students in England and Sweden. The intention is also to compare how conditions of citizenship are dealt with in social studies for upper secondary school in England and Sweden. The relationship between students education and real conditions for citizenship is complex and partly differs between, as well as within, the two countries. The present comparative examination and analysis aims to visualize both specific and common conditions of citizenship in England and Sweden. This is to draw attention to how the meaning of frequently used terminology and images in the field of Citizenship Education do not always coincide with teachers’ and students’ own opinions and perceived meanings. By doing this we hope to contribute some new knowledge regarding one of the most difficult challenges that citizenship education is struggling with, whether the provided knowledge and values prepare todays youth to defend and develop future democratic and just societies. To achieve this, we have conducted a number of interviews with teachers and secondary school students and asked them about their experiences and opinions regarding Citizenship Education and the nature of citizenship. The following main questions were central to the interviews:

  • What knowledge and skills does a citizen need in a democracy and how is the meaning of citizenship connected to gender, class and ethnicity?
  • How are personal liberties affected by the citizen’s gender, class and ethnicity according to the respondents?
  • What are teachers’ and students’ experiences of Citizenship Education and how does school pay attention to citizens´ conditions based on gender, class and ethnicity?

In recent years, both public debate and published research have shown that, in order to understand the real meanings of citizenship, it is necessary to understand and interpret formal citizenship rights and responsibilities from individuals’ social and cultural conditions as characterised by gender, ethnicity and social class. During the 2000s, the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) presented recurrent reports that shows how socio-economic background, in combination with foreign background, are crucial for pupils school results. The reports also show how segregation between schools and residential areas has increased on the basis of residents socio-economic and ethnic background. This group of students are a part of tomorrows citizens, which are also likely to remain marginalized even as adults. The links between Swedish school policy, pupils school results and the democratic development of society at large has been observed and analysed in contemporary Swedish research.

In England, the picture is slightly different with the 7 per cent of the population who experience private education being over-represented in positions of power and influence. In May 2012, the then Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove provided a list of leaders in the arts, sciences, politics, sports, journalism, entertainment and other fields who had all been to independent schools, concluding that

“the sheer scale, the breadth and the depth, of private school dominance of our society points to a deep problem in our country  . . .  Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable county.”

There is significant evidence that socio-economic background, in combination with ethnic background, continue to be highly influential on pupils school results. Links between national education policy, social class and pupils school results appear to remain entrenched in England. 

When we identify cultural and social conditions as in any way hindering the status of citizenship, we do so from a perspective which does not seek to blame the less powerful for holding particular cultural perceptions but which recognises the barriers a dominant culture sets against those with less power. The insight that tells us it is necessary to comprehend individuals’ social and cultural conditions in order to understand and interpret their formal citizenship rights and responsibilities is not, however, particularly recent. Marx wrote over 160 years ago that, “if you assume a particular civil society . . . you will get particular political conditions”, from which it must follow that any society divided on the grounds of class, ethnicity and gender will present political conditions which reflect such divisions. It is also the case that there is likely to be a significant space between what is (the real) and what is perceived (the formal); just because there is inequality it does not follow that everyone is aware of that inequality.


BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20677515

Boström, Bengt-Ove. ”Styrningen av den svenska skolans värdegrund i kritisk belysning”. Samhällets demokratiska värdegrund, En fråga om mångfald, olikhet men lika värde. Ed.Bo Andersson. Gothenburg University, 2001. 33-58.

Bruner, Jerome. The process of education. London: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Census data http://localstats.co.uk/census-demographics/england/ accessed 14/8/16

Dahlstedt, Magnus. Aktiverings politik, Demokrati och medborgarskap för ett nytt millennium, Malmö: Liber, 2009.

DfE. Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools Departmental advice for maintained schools. London: DfE, 2014.

Englund, Tomas. Samhällsorientering och medborgarfostran i svensk skola under 1900-talet, Pedagogisk Forskning i Uppsala nr 65, Uppsala Universitet, 1986.

Englund, Tomas. ”Den svenska skolan och demokratin”. Det unga folkstyret SOU 1999:93. Ed. Erik Amnå. Stockholm: Elanders Gotab, 1999. 13-50.

Englund, Tomas. Deliberativa samtal som värdegrund – historiska perspektiv och aktuella förutsättningar. Stockholm, Skolverket, 2000.

Everson, Michelle. Subjects, or Citizens of Erewhon? Law and Non-Law in the Development of a British Citizenship. Citizenship studies, 7.1 2003. 57-83. DOI: 10.1080/1362102032000048729

Fraser, Nancy and Gordon Linda. Contract versus Charity: Why there is no social citizenship in the United States. Socialist Review 3. 1992. 45-67.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.

Giddens, Anthony.”Structuration theory. Past, Present and Future”. Giddens’ Theory of Structuration. A Critical Appreciation. Ed. C. Bryant, and D. Jary, (eds.). London: Routledge. 1991

Gillborn, D., Rollock, N., Vincent, C. and Ball S. J. “You got a pass, so what more do you want?’: race, class and gender intersections in the educational experiences of the Black middle class” in Race Ethnicity and Education, Volume 15 [1]: 2012. 121-139. DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2012.638869

Gove, M. Speech at Brighton College. 2012. http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00208822/brighton-college

Griffiths, M. Educational Research for Social Justice: Getting off The Fence. Buckingham: Open University Press. 1998.

Hazareesingh, S. From subject to citizen: the Second Empire and the emergence of modern French democracy. Princeton University Press. 2014.

Institute of Fiscal Studies, 2013 and 2014. http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/?sorting=newest&q=&partial_results=1&year_published[start]=2013&year_published[end]=2014&categories[0]=38&author=&page=1&

Institute of Race Relations, 2014. http://www.irr.org.uk/

Joseph Rowntree Trust, 2012. http://www.jrct.org.uk/

Keating, A., Kerr, D., Bento, T., Mundy E., and Lope, J. Citizenship Education in England 2001-2010: young people’s practices and prospects for the future: the eighth and final report from the Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study (CELS). Research Report DFE-RR059. London: DfE. 2010.

Lgr69, Läroplan för grundskolan, Lgr69, Allmän del, Stockholm: Skolöverstyrelsen. 1969.

Larsson, Hans Albin, Vår demokratis värdegrund, Ordförrådet i Eksjö AB. 2013.

Leighton, R. Teaching Citizenship Education: A Radical Approach London: Continuum. 2012.

Leighton, R. “The nature of Citizenship Education provision: an initial study.” The Curriculum Journal 15:2. 167-184. 2004.

Leighton, R. “Radical Education: the past?” in J Arthur and I Davies, Routledge Educational Studies Textbook. London: Routledge, 207-215. 2010.

Leighton, R. Teaching Citizenship Education: A Radical Approach. London: Continuum. 2012.

Licata, L. and Klein, O., ’Does European citizenship breed xenophobia? European identification as a predictor of intolerance towards immigrants’. Journal of community & applied social psychology, 12(5), pp.323-337. 2002. DOI: 10.1002/casp.684

London’s Poverty Profile, 2016. http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/key-facts/overview-of-london-boroughs/

McSmith, A. No such thing as society: A history of Britain in the 1980s. London: Constable. 2010.

Margaret Thatcher Archives, 2016. http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106689

Marshall, T.H. “Citizenship and Social Class” in C Pierson and F.G. Castles, The Welfare State Reader Cambridge: Polity, 2006[1950].

Marx, K. and Engels, F. Selected Works London: Lawrence & Wishart. 1973.

Mezzadra, S., Citizen and subject: a postcolonial constitution for the European Union. Situations: Project of the Radical Imagination, 1(2). 2006.

Migrationsverket, “Historik”, 2016. https://www.migrationsverket.se

Miller, P. ‘Free choice, free schools and the academisation of education in England’ Research in Comparative and International Education, 6(2), 2011, 170-182. DOI: 10.2304/rcie.2011.6.2.170

National Agency for Education, PISA 2012, Sweden, 2013. http://www.skolverket.se/statistik-och-utvardering/internationella-studier/pisa/pisa-2012-1.167616

National Agency for Education, Educational equity in the Swedish school system? A quantitative analysis of equity over time, 2012. http://www.skolverket.se/om-skolverket/publikationer

National Curriculum, in England, 2002. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/32/contents

National Curriculum in England, Citizenship programmes of study for key stages 3 and 4 Statutory guidance, 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-citizenship-programmes-of-study/national-curriculum-in-england-citizenship-programmes-of-study-for-key-stages-3-and-4

Nayak, A. “Displaced Masculinities: Chavs, Youth and Class in the Post-industrial City” in Sociology 40:5. 2006, 813–831.

Nielsen, L, “Pass or Fail in the Swedish school? A historical perspective on citizenship, diversity and social justice” in Cunningham, P (Ed.) Identities and Citizenship Education: Controversy, crisis and challenges. London. 2013.

Nielsen, L, “Vad har en samhällsmedborgare för genus, klass och etnicitet? Om svenska skolans medborgarundervisning och elevernas formella och reella villkor som blivande samhällsmedborgare historiskt och idag”, in Larsson (Ed.), Det historiska perspektivet. Jönköping: Samhällsstudier & didaktik. Aktuellt om historia. 2015. 100-132. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:896252/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Nyström, E. Nordisk forskning om genus och jämställdhet i skola och utbildning: 2005 – 2009. Nordiskt institut för kunskap om kön – NIKK, Umeå universitet. 2010.

Office of National Statistics (UK) https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peoplenotinwork/unemployment accessed 25/4/16

Perry, E. and Francis, B. The social class gap for educational achievement: A review of the literature London: RSA. 2015.

PISA, Results in Focus. 2012. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf accessed 31/5/2016

QCA,The Final Report on the Teaching of Citizenship and Democracy in Schools London: QCA, 1998.

SCB, ”Arbetskraftsundersökningarna (AKU) – SCB, 2015. www.scb.se

School Inspection, Litteraturöversikt för kvalitetsgranskningen Skolors arbete med värdefrågor och demokratifrågor. 2011.

Sernhede, O, AlieNation is My Nation, Stockholm, 2007.

Shafir, G. (ed), The Citizenship Debates: A Reader U of Minnesota, 1998.

Sheldrick, M. The Magna Carta at 800, the myth and reality of the birth of the rule of law, 2015. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/the-magna-carta-at-800-the-myth-and-reality-of-the/

Skolverket, Elever med utländsk bakgrund, 2004:545, 2004. http://www.skolverket.se/om-skolverket/publicerat/publikationer

Skolverket, Könsskillnader i måluppfyllelse och utbildningsval, 2006:287, Stockholm. 2006.

Skolverket, Curriculum for the upper secondary school, Stockholm, 2013.

Skolverket, (2012) Likvärdig utbildning i svensk grundskola? Report 374,Stockholm

Skolverket, En bild av skolmarknaden, 2012b. http://www.skolverket.se/om- skolverket/publicerat/publikationer

Skolverket, PISA 2012, Summary of the report 398, 2013. http://www.skolverket.se/publikationer?id=3127

Skolverket, ”program structure and degree objectives”, 2016. https://www.skolverket.se/laroplaner-amnen-och-kurser/gymnasieutbildning/gymnasieskola/programstruktur-och-examensmal

Smith, T.E. Subject and citizen. Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 8(4), 2010. 385-409. DOI: 10.1080/14794012.2010.522357

Social Trends, 2014. https://data.gov.uk/dataset/social_trends accessed 20/5/2016

SOU, 2005:112, Demokrati på svenska? Om strukturell diskriminering och politiskt deltagande, Stockholm: Fritzes Offentliga publikationer, 2005.

SOU, 2010:51. 2010. http://www.skolverket.se/polopoly_fs/1.203100!/Menu/article/attachment/Konsskillnader_skolprestationer.pdf.

Speaker’s Commission, Encouraging Citizenship HMSO. 1990.

Strandbrink, Peter & Åkerström, Linda, Goda medborgare och onda tider? svensk demokratipolitik och myten om den passiva medborgare, Umeå: Bokförlaget h:ström – Text & Kultur, 2010.

Sutton Trust http://www.suttontrust.com/news/news/the-educational-backgrounds-of-500-leading-figures/

Sutton Trust http://www.suttontrust.com/research/the-educational-backgrounds-of-government-ministers-in-2010/

Sutton Trust http://www.suttontrust.com/research/the-educational-backgrounds-of-mps/

Thomas, M. and Young, L. June. More subject than citizen: age, gender and political disengagement in Canada. In Annual Meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, York University, Toronto, ON. 2006.

Tippett, N., Wolke, D. and Platt, L., ‘Ethnicity and bullying involvement in a national UK youth sample’. Journal of adolescence, 36(4), 2013. 639-649. DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2013.03.013

UK Government publications. 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gcse-results-2016-infographic

UK Government Treasury https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-treasury

UKonline, 2016. https://www.ukonlinecentres.com/funding/current-funding/uk-areas-of-deprivation

Universities and Colleges Admissions System [UCAS] 2015 https://www.ucas.com

Worger, P., ’A mad crowd: Skinhead youth and the rise of nationalism in post-communist Russia.’ Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 45(3), 2012, 269-278. DOI: 10.1016/j.postcomstud.2012.07.015

Yuval-Davis, Nira, “Women, Citizenship and Difference” in Feminist Review No 57, 1997, 4-27.

Yuval-Davis, Nira, “Power, Intersectionality and the Politics of Belonging”. Aalborg: Institut for Kultur og Globale Studier, Aalborg Universitet. (FREIAs tekstserie; No. 75). DOI: 10.5278/freia.58024502. 2011.

Ziebertz, H.G. and van der Tuin, L., (2008). ’Displeasure at plurality and fear of strangers? An empirical study among youth in Germany and the Netherlands.’ Intercultural Education, 19(1), 2008, 53-65. DOI: 10.1080/14675980701852400