The Westminster Parliament has recently invested considerable resource in developing a series of ‘Parliamentary Studies’ modules throughout British universities. But what difference does the teaching of Parliament make to students’ understanding of the institution? In this study, just published in Politics (sub required, sadly), the results of a series of questions about the institution (both factual and attitudinal) which are asked at the beginning of the module are compared with the results of the same questions asked towards the end of teaching.
We’ve been teaching a final-year module on Parliament since 2002, and have always seen it as a warts and all analysis of the institution. While obviously not free from our own biases, we’ve never had any intention of proselytising or cheerleading for the institution. Indeed, we did wonder whether we would discover that by teaching people about parliament we were in fact helping to undermine faith in the institution. Instead, we discovered increases in both knowledge and support amongst students.
Increases in knowledge are perhaps not surprising (I mean, if we didn’t find them, we’d be a bit worried). But we also showed increases in students deeper understanding – in their understanding of the way the party whips work, for example, as well as increases, slight in some cases, more dramatic in others, in political satisfaction and trust. Students who took our module became more positive about parliament and parliamentarians.
As the article notes, this was one study of one module in one university taught in one way (by one set of tutors), and we’re wary of reading too much into it. The next step is to attempt to repeat the exercise across all 13 institutions currently delivering parliamentary Studies.