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18 January, 2016

The more power citizens have the less anxious they are, suggests new research

Groundbreaking research into the effects of the Citizenship Foundation's social action programme for primary schools suggest that such activity decreases stress levels, says the government-sponsored Behavioural Insights Team.

Kensington Primary Schools march for their Go-Givers campaign
London schoolchildren march to save their local park.

In its new report, 'Evaluating Youth Social Action', BIT's research tracks the impact of the Go-Givers’ ‘Make a Difference Challenge’ programme: a term-long project where 10 and 11 year-olds engage in a campaign around a social issue of their choice. 

Despite their young age, participants in this programme have already shown that much can happen when a primary class turns into a campaign machine: such as campaiging successfully to re-open a local park or renovate an unloved bridge that they were afraid to use. The key was that the children chose the action they wanted to do and learned to lead it themselves.

Onlookers may naturally suppose that this has to be good for the pupils; but in what ways and how could it be proven?

The research results were uncovered through a carefully-executed randomised control trial (RCT), in which students that took part in the programme were measured against others that did not.

The results were definitive. The pupils’ empathy and desire for community involvement increased by around 10 per cent. The activity had slightly more impact on their character in respect to resilience and determination (ability to stick in, to keep going despite knock-backs).

But the biggest impact of all was the marked drop in the pupils' anxiety. After taking part social action the group measured a 22 per cent drop in feelings of anxiety. Results that have even surprised the charity:

'We have been working on programmes like this with 10 to 20 year olds’ for some time,' said Andy Thornton, Citizenship Foundation CEO, 'but haven’t appreciated what a great impact on pupils’ wellbeing can be gained.

'It would seem that - particularly amongst this younger age group - the idea that you can take matters into your own hands and not just be a victim of everyone else’s power is reassuring to the level that your worries start to recede.'

Marguerite Heath, the Director of the Go-Givers programme, added:

'On some levels I’m not surprised, but on every level I’m delighted to see that we are having such an impact on primary aged children. This age group are ready to make their mark on the world and have got to the point where they can see what’s wrong with their immediate surroundings.

'They just don’t often get the chance to do something concerted together. When they do, things change quickly. It’s a lesson in life – and that’s exactly what we intend it to be!'

Over 600 schools have now taken part in the Make a Difference Challenge and Go-Givers is now an increasingly popular subscription web site, offering not just the Challenge but also 150 lesson plans to primary schools across the UK and beyond.

More about Go-Givers at www.gogivers.org.uk.

Read the full report, 'Evaluating Youth Social Action'.

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