Democracy in schools, Dewey and the referendum on Scottish independence

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The aim of this study was to investigate young people’s perceptions of authority, representation and their involvement in decision-making in school, beyond school and in the referendum on Scottish independence. The study took place during the year leading up to the vote on independence for Scotland which included voters aged 16 and 17 years old for the first time in a national poll in the UK.

The research was conducted at six secondary schools across two local authorities. Focus groups were held with 202 young people aged 15 to 18 years. Young people referred to the police and most frequently to teachers having authority over their lives and making rules for them to follow, rather than government or other institutions. In relation to schools, many said that they did not have any voice and that consultation with them was a pretence.

Most students felt that at 16 people were old enough to vote in the referendum but they did not feel well-informed with the exception of those studying the subjects Politics or Modern Studies. They saw the referendum as an important decision affecting their future and felt that residence in Scotland, rather than citizenship status, should be the main criterion for eligibility to vote. We considered the data in light of Dewey’s work on democratic practices in schools and education for democratic participation in wider society. We note how Dewey’s work continues to inform and educate us in democratic citizenship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-71
Number of pages19
JournalEducation in the North
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2017


  • Voting age
  • Democratic education
  • citizenship education
  • schools
  • political literacy


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