It’s a topic that has dominated the media for the past month, following Theresa May’s announcement of a snap UK General Election for 8 June, three years before we were due to go to the polls. Politics is a difficult subject for some young people, who believe that it is too complicated to understand, or worse, that it “doesn’t concern them”.
With the political climate changing dramatically, it is more important than ever for young people to get understand politics at an early stage so that they know how to make their voices heard and drive change in our democracy. So, how can we help young people to understand what’s going on at present, and get them inspired to be involved with democracy in a variety of ways?
Of course, we are right in the middle of the exam season, so finding the time to address this will be difficult. So, we’ve pulled together some simple ideas to get you going alongside the election, and some longer-term projects to encourage throughout the year, both in school and at home!
Use video content to explain the UK General Election:
Looking at politics in context is a great way of showing exactly how the system is run, and showing children how to navigate party manifestos, and using video content to present this is a quick, engaging way of doing so.
Take this video from Newsweek International:
In it, the video explains how our political system works, and puts it in the context of the UK General Election. Using infographics and easy-to-understand language, the presented explains how the electoral system functions, and what people can expect to see over the coming weeks.
If you want to take this further and look at the party manifestos, there are plenty of commentators out there discussing the key points of each party’s promises and agendas, like these from PLMR!
Develop a glossary
Sometimes, the language used around politics can be very jargon-heavy, making it less accessible for younger people to understand; even well-used terms can have different meanings when it comes to the political sphere! Here are a couple of examples to start you off, but have a go at watching news broadcasts around the UK General Election and get the students/children writing down examples of terminology that they want to know the meaning of, then put together a glossary of definitions:
Constituency – A designated area of the UK (there are 650 across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
Member of parliament (MP) – The elected official for each constituency, who acts as a voice for their community in Westminster
House of Commons – The base of operations for all UK politics in Westminster. Each elected MP attends meetings in the House of Commons and votes in discussions in the interests of their constituency.
Ballot – The system used for the UK general election and other formal votes, like referendums. The voter uses this to mark their choice for their local MP or council member, or their decision in a referendum.
Establish a school council
If you don’t already have one, establishing a student council at your school is a great way of teaching the principles of democracy. Each class can elect a student to represent their group, and these council members can be called upon to help make decisions that affect the student body (for example, if the school is looking to change a policy, they could seek the opinions of this council on behalf of the student body). This then also gives them the chance to vote on issues that affect them and their peers.
To bring in political accountability, you could also ask the student council members to present to their class once every half-term, and to gather questions from their peers to take back to the next meeting. This way, the other students also get a chance to be involved with the process.
Local events and contacting MPs
Finally, it’s time to get hands on with politics. Especially around a general election, there will often be hustings events in your area, where the political candidates from each party gather to debate the issues raised in the party’s campaign and to discuss how they would handle local issues in tandem with this. Attending these events will help young people to see the human side of politics and actually see the personalities of each party member, not just their policies on paper. Watch out for when party leaders are in the area too, as getting to see/speak to them is a really valuable experience, allowing young people to ask the questions that matter to them.
Following the election, when MPs have taken office, encouraging young people to write to their local MP about issues in the community or larger questions that they want taking to Parliament is a great way of showing how even outside of elections, having a voice can make a difference. You never know, perhaps these questions will be brought into the House of Commons during the Prime Minister’s Questions!
We need to ensure that young people take an interest in politics so that they can take control of their future through democracy, rather than feeling that it simply doesn’t matter.