An Educated Change in Moral Values: Some Effects of Religious and State Schools on Their Students

Author(s): Jonathan Tritter

Source: Tritter, Jonathan. 1992. “An Educated Change in Moral Values: Some Effects of Religious and State Schools on Their Students.” Oxford Review of Education 18(1): 29-43.


Do schools matter in the moral socialization of students? Do some schools have more success with this socialization than others? Findings from an article examining three secondary schools in England suggest that schools do have this capability, particularly schools with a religious affiliation.

About the Study
Tritter collected data from three co-educational secondary schools—one Catholic, one Jewish, and one State school, in southern/central England. A group of first-year students and a group of fourth- or fifth-year students (depending on the school) were given a questionnaire covering a range of issues from demographic information, expectations for education and occupation, and religious practice, with a focus on student attitudes. The questionnaire included an adaptation of several published scales, including a General Religious Attitudes Scale dealing with general religious belief, a Secular Morality Scale based on the Decalogue and the commandments that pertain to normative practice, and a Catholic Beliefs Scale and a Jewish Beliefs Scale based on the researcher’s previous work. The study was conducted to examine whether students’ moral attitudes changed during schooling and to what extent religious schools played a role in this process.

The author found that students from the religious schools had stronger and more consistent attitudes toward religion and morality, with only small differences between the Jewish and the Catholic schools. The researcher also accurately predicted that there would be more variation between attitudes of first-year students in the state school than the religious schools, demonstrating that some forms of selection into religious schools lead to a more attitudinally homogenous group of students. Considering all of the student responses, the author found a small change toward more consistent attitudes among the older students in the state school. This was not found in the religious schools where consistency across students remained the same or slightly decreased. Tritter also found that students in religious schools exhibited much stronger connections between their personal religious beliefs and attitudes toward  general and normative secular morality, with Catholic schools showing the strongest effect. No social class effects were found for students in the different schools or in different years in school, which the author suggests may be a function of schools transmitting middle class values through teachers who are primarily from the middle class.

Limitations to Consider
As this study focused on only three schools, the author cautions that these findings may not be generalizable and suggests further research in this area. As it is difficult to determine how much the home environment and selection into schools may contribute to these results, Tritter suggests that the study supports the argument that religion, whether in schools or not, assists in the transmission and acceptance of normative values.  Additionally, the researchers do present some evidence that the secular schools are able to create increased attitude consistency over time while religious schools tend to be stagnant or even decline in this way. This may indicate that socialization in secular schools has a powerful homogenizing effect when it comes to views of morality. As this study was completed twenty years ago, additional research is needed to determine if these effects still hold in the UK and if similar effects are found in other countries.

Keywords: moral education, religious education, socialization, secondary schools, England

Sector: Catholic,  Jewish,  Public

Outcomes: Morality and Character Formation,  Religious and Spiritual

Date Posted: 2014-02-14