On Wednesday evening (16 March), I went to an intriguing panel event, which focused on the topic of ‘Politics verses Young People.’ The event was hosted by the Hansard Society, a political research and education charity and featured panellists including Craig Whittaker MP, member of the Education Select Committee; Adam Crabb, member of Bite the Ballot; Aaron Porter, current president of NUS and Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, former Education Secretary. The panel was facilitated by Michael Rafferty, the Director of the Hansard Society Citizenship Education Programme, and shed a light on issues and possible solutions, one of which included citizenship education.
The focus of the panel was to explore whether the current political system is working for young people. David Blunkett MP spoke first about the ease of his generation and the ‘fairly miserable prospect’ that young people today are facing. He advocated for citizenship education by saying that, ‘This issue around maintaining citizenship in the curriculum is a crucial way of ensuring that young people understand how their voice can be heard, where power and influence lie, but also how they could have that dialog without becoming so disillusioned that the moment something doesn’t change they walk away or they’re burnt out.’ After, Craig Whittaker MP spoke about ways in which he has tried to reach out to young people in his constituency and ways that he plans to get more involved with their issues and concerns. He also made a great point in saying, ‘We need to understand as politicians, that actually young people expect the same things as older people do, so why do we treat them differently?’
Next to speak was Aaron Porter, he spoke of a few key issues – university fees, the Iraq War, and EMA – that are of central importance to young people. He explained that many young people find these issues to be their biggest concern, yet they are often not a priority to politicians, which leaves young people feeling annoyed. He feels that this anger and despair that young people can feel towards the government, as displayed in the student protests, could be alleviated by things such as communication through technology, citizenship education, and a focus on capturing the interests of young people. After, Adam Crabb spoke about the importance of young people in politics. He talked about his reason for getting more involved and stated that, ‘Young people are the future. We all need to get involved.’
Citizenship education came up as a topic for debate a few times. One young man attending the event suggested that citizenship education was not very efficient because the way it was taught and suggested that perhaps there should be creditable citizenship education throughout secondary schools. David Blunkett agreed that it is sometimes not taught properly, but that he felt it was essential and was proud to introduce it. He spoke about how he has been working with Democratic Life, a coalition of organizations looking to keep and improve citizenship education, by meeting with Michael Gove to keep the course in the curriculum. Another young man attending the event suggested that citizenship education should be a full GCSE at all schools because of the amount of important information taught within the subject. Blunkett and Whittaker felt that although citizenship education is extremely important, yet they did not see a need to make it into something that is tested. Aaron Porter, on the other hand, felt that this could be a way to make citizenship education better taught and more of a focus of students.
Other topics that were brought up at the event were EMA, national service or national volunteering, the limited number of women in parliament, and the suggestion that the voting age should be changed to sixteen. I found the event to be extremely interesting and full of fascinating topics of debate. There were many different people of all ages, all with different views and ideas for ways to improve the role of youths in politics. At the end of the event, Michael Rafferty urged that people go on the Democratic Life website. If you’re interested in keeping citizenship education at the forefront of the national curriculum, click here to get more involved!