Compliance through care and commitment: Why young people do as adults ask

Gale MacLeod, James Fyfe, Robbie Nicol, Pauline Sangster, Harriet Obeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The behaviour of young people is often a focus for concern. However, most young person - adult relationships are mutually respectful and most young people do as they are asked. This paper presents findings from a qualitative study undertaken across four contrasting educational settings. The sample involved 44 young people aged between 12 and 21 along with 21 adult practitioners. The young people were engaged in interactive focus groups. Semi-structured interviews were held with the practitioners. The researchers undertook a critical exploration of the authority relationships between the participating adults and young people. Particular attention was given to the broader impact of the institutional setting, learner expectations and resulting forms of compliance. The research design was informed by the desire to explore the relevance of the typology of authority relationships proposed by sociologist Dennis Wrong to educational settings. The findings confirmed the applicability of his work with evidence of contrasting and often nuanced forms of authority being enacted. However, the paper argues for the need to include an additional dimension of authority relationships characterised by ‘care and commitment’. The results suggest the potential for long-term caring relationships, authenticity and professional competence as key factors in enhancing compliance in educational settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-623
Number of pages17
JournalCambridge Journal of Education
Issue number5
Early online date30 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018


  • authority
  • behaviour
  • care
  • relationships


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