12/04A local parent bemoaned the lack of political understanding of young people and felt that it should be taught in schools. I pointed out that Citizenship is a compulsory subject in schools; that we had visits from our local MP, Councillors and a member of the House of Lords and an active debating society, she felt that the students just weren’t aware of the world around them.
So I had a discussion with a class of Year 9s (13 to 14 year olds) about the political system and what were the issues that concerned them.
The issues they spoke passionately about were the conflicts happening around the world, Human Rights, the environment (local and worldwide), fairness, justice, access to mental health support, access to health care, issues and worries about careers advice, access to the arts, jobs they could get in the future, part-time jobs they could get now, lack of public transport, the examination system that they now face and local amenities for young people. They spoke with passion about each of these issues and there wasn’t complete agreement in the room as to what should be done. They discussed, without consensus, how the finite resources of government could be used, Trident or fixing their school buildings; HS2 or better mental health care. They knowledgably debated whether current immigration was a good or a bad thing.
What was marked was when the discussion turned to the political parties. The knowledge of the students drifted away. They had a thin grasp on which party supported which ideas. Those areas they had discussed so passionately about, they couldn’t connect to a political party; unless the party had basically one policy. But beyond that there was very little knowledge of what each party stood for.
What struck me was their passion, intelligence and knowledge of the issues against their little understanding of what the parties stood for. Then one of them spoke and they all nodded.
“The problem is…no-one from any of the political parties ever speak to us.”