‘Education is letting our young people down by not giving them an effective political education’

Independent schools must lead the way in bringing politics to young people, says Andrew Bowman, New Hall School’s head of politics

Politics has never been more important. Aristotle described it as ‘the master science’ and it should never be underestimated how important an understanding of politics is to the young people of the UK.

It is perhaps more important now than it has ever been. It is about preparing our future leaders to take on the many national, international and global challenges which we will face in the future.

Education is letting our young people down by not giving them an effective political education and it must be the role of independent schools to put politics front and centre of modern education.

Independent schools must be at the vanguard of this political and education revolution and lead the way in making the present generation the best politically educated generation ever. At New Hall we pride ourselves on providing a politics curriculum and co-curriculum fit for the 21st century.

Politics for all young people

We have started a campaign to bring this kind of education to young people through the hashtag, #StartYoungStartLifeStartPolitics. We have also initiated a parliamentary e-petition: ‘To make politics a compulsory subject in all schools in the UK from the age of 11’. At New Hall we teach politics as a curriculum subject in years 5 and 6 (the only school in the UK to do so) and our year 6 cohort undertakes politics projects on environment, democracy and equality.

In 2019, 13 achieved A* in their politics projects in the AQA Foundation Project Qualification and this is very much a part of creating a wonderfully unique politics curriculum for all ages at New Hall and something we would like to see rolled out at all schools in the UK.

Make a difference

All year 10 students undertake a politics-based Higher Project Qualification.

Topics have included nuclear disarmament; the Iraq war and its justification; white supremacy in the US; knife crime and youth problems; solar power as the future of air travel; the impact of self-drive cars; gender equality in sport; Trump’s America; racism in southern Europe; and solar technology, clean energy and prison conditions.

Many year 12 and 13 students undertake politics-extended projects based on global, European and UK politics covering a range of issues including international law and the role of UNHCR.

Question Time debates are held every week for all age groups with special debates inviting in guest local and national politicians. Debates have included ‘Voting at the Age of 16’, ‘Brexit – The Future’ and ‘Independent Schools are the Future of Education in the UK’.

Education is letting our young people down by not giving them an effective political education and it must be the role of independent schools to put politics front and centre of modern education

We are very keen to open up international debates through links with American, Chinese and European schools and universities, and New Hall immerses students in American politics through visits to Washington DC. We will also be taking students to the United Nations in Geneva and in New York.

New Hall has made regular contributions to BBC Radio analysing the European elections and Brexit. This included a report from Washington DC. We have also asked the BBC for the opportunity for young people to lead a programme – Politics 4 U – in which young people present politics aimed at their peers.

Working with and for our community

New Hall students from years 10 to 13 have protested in Chelmsford in order to save libraries; it was wonderful to see an independent school at the forefront supporting their community.

We are also organising the Beaulieu Politics Festival in October 2020 which will involve speakers, lobby groups and politicians addressing students, parents and the community. It is open to maintained secondary and primary schools too.

We also run a workshop in which independent and maintained schools share expertise in delivering political education to young people.

It is our responsibility to make sure that political discussion drives the young people in our care. Twenty-first century education is about young people being able to learn about politics as part of the curriculum from a young age.

Our ultimate goal is becoming a national and international hub for the teaching of politics. Join us.

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