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Voting at 16: how could youth political engagement change teaching?

The Votes at 16 campaign has been in motion since 2003, but has become more prevalent in political debate, especially after Scotland empowered 16-18 year olds to vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, and subsequent local elections.

With an increase in voter turnout of young people during the 2017 general election campaign, and 54.3% of 16-18 year olds turning out to vote in the Scottish referendum, young people are becoming progressively more politically engaged. But how will voting at 16 affect the way we teach?

Compulsory teaching of the subject of citizenship and a wealth of political information online has made our pupils more informed than ever. Despite this, pupils still complain of not being taught enough about politics in the classroom. With the Votes at 16 campaign in the UK gaining greater traction, will the way we teach have to change to inform our pupils about the world of politics?

For starters, citizenship could become more in-depth, and with compulsory time requirements — in this case, teachers would need to have a more specialist understanding of politics. The name of the subject itself could be changed to ‘politics’ too. If our young people are going to vote and shape society, we as teachers could be expected give them the greatest knowledge base from which to step forward and change the country in which we live.

For teachers, this could be a huge boost to the profession. New openings could open for specialist roles giving teachers who understand politics a new direction on which to embark. Political discussion, which has always been a bit of a no-no, could be released from its shackles.

Will the way we teach have to change to inform our pupils about the world of politics?

will the way we teach have to change to inform our pupils about the world of politics

It would also give the humanities a better-rounded feel for students. Political discussion could be discussed in English Literature — the much dreaded Shakespeare would certainly become more entertaining for pupils if discussed in the light of contemporary politics. It could also be introduced to subjects like Geography, in which geopolitics could be introduced as a starter for discussion. 

As Rhys Byrom, a secondary school English teacher at Thomas Tallis School in Greenwich, London suggests:

“Political awareness and debate fosters a student’s capacity to be insightful and collaborative in their approach to learning. From the perspective of an English teacher, a student’s engagement with socio-political matters in texts — such as Shakespeare’s Coriolanus on the year 12 English Literature curriculum — can become critical and conceptual when built upon a pre-existing cognitive framework of political structures.

Agency and a sense of independence are crucial stages in a young person’s development: surpassing their voice within society deprives many of, or defers, a stimulus. Cultural capital for young people — a political football for the last few decades — is often dictated by economic condition; suffrage from 16 would alter the latter, in turn allowing social justice and improving young people’s engagement with and experience of education”

Ultimately, it could make complaints of subjects that once raised the age-old of question of “what’s the point?” seem engaging, entertaining, and relevant. If the Votes at 16 campaign is successful, our pupils could be more engaged, more intelligent, and more informed. 

The profession of teaching could be given a huge reputation boost too, potentially leading to wage increases that are more in line with inflation. All in all, the Votes at 16 campaign could be hugely beneficial for both schools and teachers.

If you are a teacher on the lookout for a change in direction and would like to discover the teaching roles currently available, contact our consultants today.

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