All this week A-Level students are sharing their experiences of Citizenship education, as part of our Youth Politics research strand, led by James Weinberg. Today, Iqra discusses how she has become politically active, and Amelia argues against the Government’s decision to axe the Citizenship A-Level.
A year ago, the idea of politics bored me. I felt that there was no correlation between the decisions made by politicians and the effects they had on my life. Therefore, as a young person I disengaged myself from all aspects of politics and current affairs that didn’t have a direct influence on my lifestyle. The notion that politics was ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ seemed unrealistic as I felt that there were no politicians representative of myself and my background and capable of understanding the issues that faced me and other young people. Also I couldn’t see any attempts made by politicians to address us young people directly as well as issues we felt passionate about.
Despite this, as the general election approached, my opinion began to change as there was a greater exposure of politics. The different party manifestos were plastered on traditional media outlets but also on social media, which enabled me to explore the different campaigns on a forum I was familiar and comfortable with. This, combined with my school’s efforts to boost engagement with politics through assemblies and a mentoring scheme, resulted in my interest in political affairs growing. It was only then I realised the importance of having a good understanding of the political world.
As a result, in the last year I have attempted to keep updated with the world of politics and have joined my local youth council. Also within the next year I am applying to become my borough’s member of youth parliament, which would enable me to campaign for issues young people are passionate about such as mental health as well as providing an opportunity to debate at the House of Commons. Despite this, the opinions I have on politics are not shared by many young people. The majority of my friends have negative opinions of politicians and feel that politics is for those of privileged backgrounds, for middle aged men and not women; and certainly not for those from minority backgrounds. This is why it’s important for politics to become more accessible for all young people. If pupils are more aware of the influence that politics has on their lives, ranging from the future of the NHS to our university fees, they would feel a greater desire to be engaged. Also schools should be taking a greater responsibility for educating young people in how politics works and the differences between the different political parties. Politics is messy and often difficult to understand, and as a result many young people’s political views mirror their parents. Therefore, more should be done through formal education channels to enable us young people to be the change that we want to see in our country.
Iqra (aged 16)
Image courtesy of BillyH via Wikimedia Commons
Having experienced two different forms of citizenship lessons in two schools in the London Borough of Hillingdon my experience is that the lesson content is quite dull and the syllabus is not very broad. More worrying is the lack of importance placed on citizenship lessons by my peers. In both my current sixth form and at my previous school many people treat citizenship as a ‘free period’.
Having found citizenship to be quite boring I was pleased in year 10 to get away from normal classes to undertake an AS level in citizenship, followed by A2 in year 11, though for scheduling reasons I didn’t sit the A2 exam.
Both the AS and A2 syllabuses were engaging and interesting, forcing me to think logically about issues, for instance, why do so many young people support pressure groups rather than political parties and the roles and organisation of the judicial system. This content was quite detailed, and not necessarily what’s needed in year 10 & 11 lessons, but if we can find a way to engage pupils in citizenship and spark their interest we might transform citizenship into a lesson that students actually look forward to. I think it is such a shame that the government have scrapped the A-Level in citizenship post-2018!
One way to engage interest would be the use of debates, to discuss and dissect world events and issues in the news to make citizenship a place opinions can be voiced, shared and considered. Another way would be to broaden the syllabus, letting students develop their analytical skills on key issues in society by making them think ‘why would this effect me?’ or ‘why is this important?’.
Citizenship is a lesson that will always be difficult to teach as it is not assessed or focused in the way that core subjects are. Whilst it may never have great focus, it is important in developing logic and analytical thinking. To improve citizenship and properly fulfil its purpose in schools it needs to be a subject that engages students, not just a subject that fills a gap in the timetable.
Amelia (Aged 17)
Biography: James Weinberg
James is a Research Associate at the Crick Centre working on the ‘personal side of politics’. Currently a doctoral research student, his ESRC-funded PhD focuses on the value orientations of national politicians in the UK; the research hopes to illuminate the psychological imperatives associated with the job of representation and the personal dynamics of MPs’ roles, behaviours and legislative decisions. James has already completed a pilot study with 48 UK MPs. Alongside his PhD James is currently leading on a new strand of research investigating the ways citizenship education can be reformed, both process and content, to tackle political apathy and reinvigorate democracy. He is a member of the Study of Parliament Group and sits on the committee of the Hertford Society. Previously James has worked in secondary education as an English teacher in London. He completed his Masters in Political Science at the University of Manchester and his BA in History at the University of Oxford.
Note: this article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Crick Centre, or the Understanding Politics blog series. To write for the Understanding Politics blog, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org