Many people feel disillusioned with the political system. The fiasco surrounding A-level results has made abundantly clear the profound impact those in positions of power and authority can have on people’s life chances. Too often, there is a lack of transparency regarding how certain decisions are made and who can be held accountable for those decisions.
One solution to this problem could be ensuring all young people are taught how the political institutions of the United Kingdom operate, with a focus on which bodies and roles make particular decisions – ranging from Parliament to local councils. During the 2016 referendum, the Leave campaign emphasised ‘the need for regaining sovereignty’ as a reason for leaving the European Union, though it doesn’t appear to be a priority for the Education Secretary to ensure that every young child is aware of what a parliamentary statute actually is.
Exam boards currently offer a Citizenship Qualification at GCSE which seeks to explore the rights and responsibilities people have, how the legal system and democracy work in the United Kingdom, in addition to exploring the economy, finance and money. Beyond this, schools should have the resources to ensure all their students leave with an awareness of what exactly their MP or Mayor does as well as the Prime Minister. Young people should also be equipped with the knowledge of how to influence change in society or their local community.
The Black Lives Matter protests have brought much more attention to the need for a diverse curriculum and the need to recruit more teachers of different backgrounds. However, to truly empower and inspire young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, they should be given the opportunity to reflect on issues such as who chooses their curriculum and why they learn certain things. This can gradually progress to exploring and discussing a whole raft of other issues relating to provision of local infrastructure and the operations of local businesses. There would hopefully be plenty of opportunity to visit their local councils, meet councillors and hopefully even visit Westminster.
It’s worth addressing the fact that certain students may start and progress through school with less experience and parental support in subjects such as English language or history. This may lead them to perform worse in these subjects and ingrain in their minds they are not as ‘academic’ or ‘intellectually minded’, especially compared to other students who see their entry into universities and professional services jobs as a natural progression. This may gradually lead them to feel unappreciated in society. For these kids it may be of considerable value to explore the exact role and influence they can have in their communities and society leading them to feel determined to make changes.
By increasing young people’s engagement with politics inside the classroom I would hope students who may unfortunately feel ‘disengaged’ or ‘unimportant’ would become empowered to make a difference in society (with the knowledge and awareness they may gain of how to do so).
I believe that young people should be educated as citizens, helping them engage in the myriad of political institutions that make up the United Kingdom’s democracy. Young people should feel they make a valuable contribution to this nation.
This blog was first drafted by sixth-former Saul Bhaidani during a work experience placement in Thangam Debbonaire’s office.