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Alcohol: Can young people lead the charge?

This week (11th-17th November) marks Alcohol Awareness Week, in which charities and experts are encouraging the general public to think about their drinking and the changes they could make. In September 2018, Secondary and College voters were asked about whether they thought British drinking culture was an embarrassment, while their Primary counterparts considered whether British adults drink too much when compared to other countries around the world. 

Drinking Primary Results
Primary results
Drinking Secondary Results
Secondary results
Drinking College Result
College Results

Comments on these two questions ranged from the slightly defensive – “it’s part of our culture, so we shouldn’t be judged”-  to the self-conscious – “what must other countries think of us?!”. Others also cited the health and safety risks, particularly surrounding teenage drinkers and drink-drivers. So how much has changed since the votes on these questions? Below are a few key alcohol headlines from the last 12 months.  

  • February 2019: Prompted by the rise of “Dry January”, some studies have shown that abstinence from alcohol can, in the case of a group of lab rats, lead to binge drinking later on. However, this effect has yet to be conclusively proven in humans. Nevertheless, the advice is that for those who are more prone to binge drinking, it is better to try abstaining for a couple of days a week for the entire year, rather than going cold turkey for a month after the festive period. January 2020 is likely to bring with it more pledges and more studies to bolster or disprove these theories. 
  • April 2019: Medical advice surrounding alcohol consumption is often mixed, but one fairly conclusive assertion from medical journal The Lancet is that “light to moderate drinking” does not keep drinkers safer from strokes than those who drink heavily. The safest approach, it seems, is not to drink at all. 
  • May 2019: According to the Global Drugs Survey 2019, British respondents reported being drunk an average of 51 times per year, compared to an average of 33 times for all other countries in the survey. Evidently, the question posed to Primary pupils is still pretty pertinent. 
  • June 2019: Following the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland in May 2018, research indicated that less alcohol was purchased there in the 12 months since MUP (Minimum Unit Pricing) began than in any other year since the 1990s. 
  • July 2019: Over the summer, it was reported that hotel bosses in popular resorts had been advised not to assign British holidaymakers rooms with balconies, following a string of incidents the previous year in which several people fell to their death. 
  • October 2019: Plans have been unveiled to implement a minimum alcohol price in Wales by March 2020. This would mean bars and shops could only sell alcohol for a minimum of 50p per unit. These plans will be finalised later this month pending approval from the Welsh Assembly. 

All of these news stories indicate that positive steps are being taken towards tackling drinking harm. However, these seem to be predominantly carried out by adults, for adults. Although many young people are still affected by drink (a survey published in August showed that as many as 1 in 4 15-year olds were frequent drinkers, with another 21% of these having consumed over the recommended 14 units), it has been widely reported that consumption of alcohol amongst young people has reduced significantly over the past few years. 

With this in mind, surely the older generations of drinkers could learn from the actions of young people today? There is so much talk about the ever-growing generational divide today, without many suggestions of how it could be used for good; perhaps alcohol presents a prime opportunity. The results of these questions should therefore be used as motivation for researchers and the public, highlighting that although there is room for improvement across all groups when it comes to drinking, perhaps young people can – or even should – lead the charge.  

For more help and advice on alcohol dependency for yourself or someone else, visit the following links: 

  • Alcohol Change UK: the new charity formed from the merger of Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern. They offer help & support, facts & figures and showcase current research.
  • Drinkaware: their website provides advice if you are concerned about your own drinking, someone else’s or underage drinking. They also have tips on how to stay safe and look after your mental health
  • One You: the NHS have a range of apps to help promote wellbeing amongst the general public. This includes their Drink Free Days app, which can help motivate you to reduce your alcohol intake by showing how your weekly units soon add up. 

 

 

 

 


Georgie is the Schools Relationship Officer at VotesforSchools, and she creates the weekly content for Colleges and Prisons. Her blog series, Power to the Pupils, will take a retrospective look at how the results of the debates by young people in the classroom are coming to fruition – or not, as the case may be. Please email her at georgie@votesforschools.com if you have any questions or comments about this post or future ones.

Cover Image Credit:  Alcohol Change UK

Hulk smash Parliament?

In March this year, we asked students whether Brexit had ‘broken’ Parliament. The results, unlike those emerging from Parliament in recent weeks, were very conclusive. To quote a Secondary student: “Yes, just yes.” Since March, things have gone from bleak to bleaker for the UK political landscape. But just how much more broken is it? 

Brexit Parliament Primary Result
Primary results
Brexit Parliament Secondary Result
Secondary results
Brexit Parliament College Result
College results

When this topic was discussed by voters, Brexit’s original deadline of 29th March had just passed and huge marches had taken place comprising of those on both sides of the debate (“No Deal? No Problem” versus “The People’s Vote”). Parliament and public alike were divided. It seems pertinent to use some of the voters’ comments to illustrate how the Brexit story has unfolded since then. 

Theresa May is expected to form a deal on her own from thin air and every deal she seems to offer is immediately struck down by her MPs.

The headline news is that Theresa May announced her resignation on 24th May in an emotional speech outside Number 10. As of 24th July, she was no longer Prime Minister. 

Theresa May is trying her best but we might need a new PM.

As we all know, this position was awarded to Boris Johnson after a hotly-contested leadership contest in the Conservative Party, punctuated with drug-use allegations and a list of candidates that seemed constantly in flux. 

Because so many MPs are resigning it really has split parliament up. 

Since moving into Downing Street at the end of July, Mr Johnson has had a sufficiently rocky ride in both his personal and political life: in June, he was scrutinised by the press for avoiding questions surrounding his relationship with his partner, after a neighbour overheard a row. Not only this, but his brother, Joe Johnson, gave up his position in politics, citing family tension. In slightly brighter news, Mr Johnson did get a dog, called Dilyn.

Politically, Parliament has been similarly dog-eat-dog. There have been several defections from the Conservative Party of late, but none more theatrical than that of Phillip Lee’s, whose move to the Lib Dems bench left Mr Johnson without a working majority. He’s also not exactly popular with EU leaders either.  

British politicians, and especially the Prime Minister, are meant to act for the good of the country.

Moving forward to the present (and undoubtedly bypassing a number of other notable Brexit-based changes that have all merged into one), the Scottish court has ruled that the current suspension of Parliament – which is set to continue until 14th October – is unlawful. The Supreme Court is also presently discussing the legality of Mr Johnson’s actions. Should the suspension last for the entire five weeks, it would leave Parliament with just 18 days until the current Brexit deadline of 31st October. Mr Johnson has been accused of ‘silencing’ MPs, with Parliament descending into chaos prior to suspension. It seems Parliament is not just broken, it is temporarily defunct. 

All these things considered, it seems pretty clear that our voters were right. Brexit has shown itself to be an unprecedented brute force, and such scenes have not been seen in Parliament since the time of Charles I. Heads have indeed already rolled, with further potential casualties around the corner. As one voter astutely noted, “Brexit definitely has broken parliament as they can’t come to a conclusion and time is running out.” If time was running out back in March, then it’s really going to go down to the wire now. The BBC have helpfully created an infographic that explains the possibilities from here on out, though if the last few months have shown anything, it’s that the path to Brexit is full of surprises, so this may be subject to yet more change. 

It is not an understatement to say Brexit is complex, and there are many people out there trying to do their bit to make it more understandable/bearable for all involved. Here are a few ways to either broaden your understanding or just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all (or perhaps both): 


Georgie is the Schools Relationship Officer at VotesforSchools, and she creates the weekly content for Colleges and Prisons. Her blog series, Power to the Pupils, will take a retrospective look at how the results of the debates by young people in the classroom are coming to fruition – or not, as the case may be. Please email her at georgie@votesforschools.com if you have any questions or comments about past, present or future posts.

Cover Image Credit:  New York Post

Title Inspiration: Boris Johnson’s bold claim

Love Island: a small-screen blessing or a reality TV curse?

Last summer, social media platforms and news outlets were awash with all things Love Island as the 2018 series made cultural waves. In light of this, we decided to ask our Secondary voters “Should your parents/carers watch Love Island with you?” As news broke this week that children as young as 8 have been ‘emulating contestants’ in a Primary school in Carmarthenshire (which is precisely why we did not cover this topic for our Primary voters), it seemed appropriate to revisit this question. 

Love Island Parents Secondary Results

While the result was 72.8% no, this is not to say that all voters were in favour of watching it independently. In fact, many of the comments centred around the fact that no one should be watching it due to its promotion of unrealistic body image and ‘fantasy’ relationships. Some feedback did emerge that showed the value of watching it with parents, however: ‘I think [teenagers] should because it will encourage you and your parent/carer to talk about things that you never thought you would talk about’. Evidently, there is value to be found in the show once you’ve seen past the mortification of sitting with your parents and watching people ‘crack on’. Since it looks set to stay on our screens for the time being, it’s worth finding out how it could be a useful source for life lessons rather than a mere summer-long fling. 

Given that it was ‘the most tweeted about TV show in 2018’ and that a significant proportion of UK teenagers use social media for several hours every day (much of this during the evenings), it is almost impossible that young people across the UK are unaware of the stories emerging from the show whether they are avid viewers or not. Let’s take a look at some of the statistics and headlines that they are likely to have come across since last summer: 

  • Two contestants, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, who appeared in the 2016 and 2017 series respectively, have died by suicide in the last 12 months, with another contestant from this series recently quitting the show to protect her mental health.
  • It’s been found that appearing on Love Island could be more lucrative than attending Oxford or Cambridge University. 
  • This year’s series has been subject to accusations of racism as well as a lack of body diversity (though it has also been argued that given the history of poor mental health support from the show, putting someone ‘plus-size’ in the villa would have been negligent).
  • The show has been proffered as a showcase of toxic masculinity, which highlights wider social issues at play beyond the confines of the villa.
  • It has even been cited as a great lesson in how to deal with heartbreak and the power of kindness

None of these are small issues, but putting them under the microscope and watching people live through and challenge them may well make them all the more relatable and easy to comprehend, especially for younger viewers. Identifying the ‘snakey’ behaviour of a contestant on the show could well help someone spot it happening in their own life, and this can only be seen as a positive byproduct of an otherwise controversial programme. Admittedly, relying on the Islanders enduring heartbreak and betrayal to teach teenagers about healthy relationships is not the most compassionate of approaches, but the show is nevertheless a relatable touchstone between generations that could help these conversations to occur more organically. Watching it with parents could therefore open up honest discussion about topics that are equally as important to young people’s wellbeing as the political and economic issues that otherwise dominate the news. 

It is not only young people who would benefit, either: though some VotesforSchools commenters cited the show as ‘inappropriate’ as it ‘contains sexual scenes’, this could actually be helpful for parents needing to open up conversations about relationships, sex and even consent in a more engaging and understandable way (provided, of course, that scenes are not overly explicit and that those watching are of an age to have that conversation). Former contestant Megan Barton Hanson has even highlighted her desire to teach kids sex education, while also expressing how ‘schools have a responsibility, as do parents, to teach their kids.’ As it turns out, she may have already started teaching them during her time on the show in 2018. 

In short: if teenagers are going to watch Love Island (or even just read up on it via social media), then it seems preferable that they do so in the knowledge that the issues they see on screen are not for them to analyse and dissect alone. Even if they are resolutely averse to having these discussions with parents, having them with someone is a positive step. It would be interesting to see the response from students if the parents/carers aspect were omitted, and they were asked ‘Should you watch Love Island alone?’ The likelihood is that the Yes/No ratio of the 2018 vote may well be reversed. 

As this post has shown, Love Island is, like it or not, a huge cultural phenomenon. To find out more, try the following: 


Georgie is the Schools Relationship Officer at VotesforSchools, though she also helps out with content. Her blog series, Power to the Pupils, will take a retrospective look at how the results of the debates by young people in the classroom are coming to fruition – or not, as the case may be. Please email her at georgie@votesforschools.com if you have any questions or comments about this post or future ones.

Cover Image Credit: i News

Three Primary school games to get your class engaged and listening  

This week, we’ve come up with three games for the Primary school classroom that encourage listening and turn-taking. These are ideal traits for circle time, when taking part in a PSHE discussion or if pupils are debating topical issues. We all know how excited a class can get when talking about something that is really important to them, so these activities are ideal for setting the tone and ensuring they are in the right frame of mind for sensible discussion and debate.

  1. Ordering 30. A classroom classic, here’s our take on it: count the total number of children in your class that day. Ask the children to look down at the table (a bit like playing ‘heads down, thumbs up’). Then when you say ‘go’, the class must count up to the number 30 (or however many children there are in that day). However, they must do it individually and in numerical order. So one child (but nobody knows who) has to say ‘one’, then another child somewhere in the room has to say ‘two’, and so on. The class has to start again at the beginning if more than one person says a number at the same time – this will happen a lot at the start! It’s a great game for emphasising the importance of focus, memory and turn-taking. It should also generate some camaraderie for good measure.
  2. Count the seconds. A listening game that also teaches concentration, which any teacher would agree is vital in a class discussion when so many opinions are flying around. Take a clock or stopwatch and ask pupils to put up their hand when they think exactly one minute has passed. No looking at any other clocks in the room of course! The winner is the one who puts their hand up at exactly the 60-second mark. Like all great concentration activities, you could hear a pin drop during this game…
  3. The dictation challenge. Yes, dictation – you read that correctly. Not only is dictation a requirement of the National Curriculum (2014), but every class that this has been tried and tested on has loved it. Get a book the class are reading and choose one paragraph that is three to four sentences long. Ask the class to get ready to write every word that you say when you dictate the passage. Afterwards, invite volunteers to read the passage they wrote back to the class. The winner is the pupil who is word-perfect. Every time we’ve tried this (even with the more difficult classes), it gets the children really listening; not only to you when you read the passage, but also to their peers as they read it back. The fact it improves oratory skills and pupils’ confidence is an added benefit.  

If you decide to give any of these a go, let us know how you get on!

Deeds and Words?

As will hopefully have not gone unnoticed, last year marked a century since the passage of the Representation of the People Act, with which the right to vote was extended to all men and certain women – around 8.4 million of them, to be exact. To commemorate this, we asked young people to consider how far society has come since then, and whether the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and Annie Kenney would be impressed by the state of Parliament today in terms of diverse representation and equal treatment (suffice to say very few people would be impressed by the general state of Parliament following weeks of Brexit chaos, as was seen in our topic at the end of last month).

There have certainly been some advances and notable events in the struggle for gender equality and enfranchisement since this topic was debated. For example, there have been several statues unveiled to commemorate the women who fought tirelessly for the right to vote (in Manchester, Oldham and Morpeth), and the number of books available about feminism and gender has skyrocketed (see Cristina Criado Perez’s Invisible Women for her quantitative take on how our world is, and continues to be, disproportionately designed with men in mind, or Scarlett Curtis’ Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and Other Lies) for a collection of musings from notable names on what feminism means to them).

But it was, in fact, a recent news story that provided the catalyst for this retrospective look at the suffragette topic: the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, Dr Helen Pankhurst, was awarded a CBE for her work around gender equality. This is of course a wonderful thing, and shows that the work women are doing is being respected and rewarded by the highest powers. And yet, Dr Helen herself highlighted that there remains ‘so much that needs to be done’, which seemed to echo the sentiments of many of our voters. As our question was specifically about Parliament rather than whether or not the suffragettes would be happy with today’s society it is worth interrogating what exactly has been done by decision-makers since July 2018.

There has been impassioned discussion of women in Parliament and notable data released surrounding this. Penny Mordaunt’s speech to mark International Women’s Day in March offered a crucial insight into the gender disparities that pervade the professional and personal lives of so many in the UK and beyond. But it was also a celebration of the changes being made, however incremental. She outlined the work being done to help with myriad ‘barriers … and obstacles’ faced by women, such as period poverty, menopause and financial instability.

In line with this, on 5th March (the day after her speech), the government released a briefing on Women in Parliament. It reiterated how female representation is at an all-time high, with 32% of the hallowed benches comprising women. This figure hasn’t changed since last summer as there hasn’t been a general election, but it is a useful indicator for the progress that has been and is yet to come; it could help indicate who will, and should, make up Parliament following the next election in 2022*. According to the report and as can be seen below, representation has, for the most part, steadily gone up since the late 1970s. What we have now is almost 13 times better than 1979. Having a balanced Parliament is something on which all parties have openly expressed agreement; given the current discord plaguing the House of Commons, it is encouraging to find something that is met with a resounding yes.

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Even if it seems like slow progress, it is important to keep in mind that the prospect of women accounting for a third of Parliament a century ago would most likely have seemed implausible. As such, these numbers nevertheless deserve to be celebrated and taken seriously.

Another longstanding sticking point in the fight for gender equality has been the gender pay gap. On this, Parliament appears to be bucking the trend. It was recently revealed that

the Gender Pay Gap (GPG) report shows the mean pay gap for the House of Commons was 1.45%. The median pay gap was revealed to be 1.01%. The figures show that men have a marginal pay lead in terms of both mean and median hourly pay over women in the House of Commons. This is explained by the ratio of female to male employees across the organisation, which is largely similar to the distribution across each pay quartile, resulting in relatively equal pay between genders.

Although ‘relatively equal pay’ isn’t perfect, Parliament is certainly taking positive action. If they are able to set a solid and sustainable precedent in terms of equal pay, then it is hoped that other employers and institutions will feel compelled (or, hopefully, inspired) to follow suit. Based on these examples of change, it is evident that in certain crucial respects Parliament is moving in the right direction and creating an environment about which the suffragettes would indeed have been ‘astounded’.

The significance of these attempts to tackle inbuilt inequalities within Parliament should not be underestimated. However, not everything is rosy in the Commons and there is still much room for improvement on the basic treatment of female MPs. As part of the topic, young people discussed the sexist abuse these women face on a daily basis, and what they found was very disappointing when taking into account other progress made; one claimed that ‘just because more women are MPs, it doesn’t mean sexism isn’t still carried through Parliament’. Indeed, some of the abuse levelled at female politicians comes from their own colleagues. A cursory Google search of ‘disciplinary procedures for sexist MPs’ yields very little in terms of information about the repercussions faced by Parliamentarians for inappropriate conduct towards their female counterparts. Without sufficient proof that sexism in government is met with serious consequences, it is effectively being allowed to continue. In the same way that Parliament has set an example in terms of closing the gender pay gap, it also has a duty to quash sexism within its walls. This should thereby set a precedent across society as a whole.

Though many turned out to celebrate the achievements of the suffragettes and to celebrate women in Parliament, the general public also have a significant part to play in the way female MPs feel about their work and their personal safety. The online abuse they receive on the likes of Twitter continues to be widely reported: a study from the end of last year indicated that they are abused online roughly every 30 seconds. Many MPs took a stand, reading out some of the comments they had received. Tackling this abuse so directly is commendable, but the responsibility should not lie solely with the women on the receiving end. There could be serious emotional and psychological ramifications, and inaction could seriously affect the progress already made as promising female politicians may be deterred from pursuing their political ambitions out of concern for their own wellbeing. As a result, the notion of all people being successfully represented in Parliament would be slowed down at best, and totally undermined at worst. With this in mind, change is sorely needed if we are to keep the female MPs we already have in Parliament and continue to improve diversity across the board. There does seem to be some imminent action: the government has just this week released an Online Harms White Paper, the first of its kind in the world. If successfully moderated, this ought to make a huge impact on the digital lives of MPs. On the whole, though, there needs to be a shift in public attitudes towards how we communicate with our politicians and a clear crackdown on those in the Commons with outdated views on gender, and things need to change faster than they have been.

From these few instances alone, it is evident that Parliament is moving forward in some areas, and stalling in others (which is true of many government issues). According to our voters, ‘based on these statistics we still have very far to go’, and the timings loosely allocated to progress by many – “in a generation’s time”, “by 2050” and so on – should only really be used as deadlines rather than targets, especially if we want our young people to see real change. There is nothing to say the enduring issues couldn’t be successfully addressed in the next decade or even less. Debates on women’s suffrage happened frequently in the early days of suffragist campaigning, which kept the issue in the public eye, and the same must be done today.

Based on the current trajectory, if the same question is asked of voters in another half-century, then the Yeses ought to have it. In the meantime, there are plenty of deeds and words needed first.  

*Provided there isn’t another one beforehand! 

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To immerse yourself in further feminist phenomena, check out one of the following:

  • Read: Virago Press is an international publisher of books by women, with work by contemporary female writers such as R.O. Kwon and Åsne Seierstad, and established authors like Margaret Atwood and Zora Neale Hurston. This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist also offers a great selection of the world’s best female writing; the winner will be announced on 5th June.
  • Write: The University of Oxford offers an Introduction to Women’s Writing course, and Write Like a Grrrl offers creative writing courses for women all over the UK (and the world!).
  • Listen: The Woman’s Hour pages have some brilliant interviews and discussions about everything from knife crime, to Brexit, to period stigma and how these affect women in the workplace and at home. There are also plenty of podcasts to subscribe to that take on feminism, which Player FM have listed on their pages.  

Georgie is Schools Relationship Officer at VotesforSchools, though she also helps out with content. Her blog series, Power to the Pupils, will take a retrospective look at how the results of the debates by young people in the classroom are coming to fruition – or not, as the case may be. Please get in touch with her at georgie@votesforschools.com if you have any questions or comments about this post or future ones.

Cover Image Credit: ITV News

Three easy primary classroom debate ideas

Whether it’s used for a literacy-writing prompt or simply to improve pupils’ speaking and listening, debating is a valuable skill for pupils and the classroom makes for an ideal setting. Here we present three of our debate topics that have gone down really well in Primary classrooms, including with KS1 age groups.

Each question addresses a range of subject areas, so can provide great links to specific areas of the curriculum. With the busy teacher in mind, they don’t need much preparation or planning either.

  1. Would you rent your clothes?

Consider this topic the updated version of the age-old ‘Should you have to wear school uniform?’ literacy- writing prompt! When we asked this question, we considered the environmental impact of ‘fast fashion’ and included many high street brands with which Primary-age children would be very familiar.

Renting clothes was introduced at as an alternative way of consuming fashion: this way, you could have a different outfit every week that you then return. As a result, pupils could see that renting clothes could reduce the creation of new clothing and clothing waste. The environmental impact of clothes production is certainly undertaught, so this question provides a great way to introduce a new topic to pupils and is an alternative way to explore the environment during Science lessons. From what we have seen, the question really got children engaged.

  1. Would you go to a school run by students?

As you can imagine, this was a very popular topic when we posed it to schools! It can work really well as a school-wide question, especially if launching a school council for the first time. Remind pupils of the importance of including the ‘practical’ side of running a school: choosing which lessons to teach might be the exciting bit, but will they want to decide who will be in charge of cleaning, school dinners and of course the dreaded marking policy?

In several schools, this debate was extended to staff, too. We heard some great stories about schools getting everybody from site managers to lunchtime supervisors to speak in front of classes about their role. This definitely gives ‘school-wide’ a whole new meaning!

  1. Would you like to be a member of the Royal Family?

We asked this question in 2017, the year before Royal-Wedding-fever struck. It’s a useful question to include during topic lessons about monarchy. The question could also be approached from a totally different angle if you were to choose another period of history. For example, looking at the different responsibilities and duties royalty had in the Tutor times would undoubtedly get pupils to think twice before arguing their case or casting their vote…

Let us know how you get on, and don’t forget to check out our new weekly debate topics on votesforschools.com

Where’s the Party?

In May 2017, VotesforSchools asked students “Do we need a new political party?”, following a snap general election that saw voter fatigue soar. This same question could easily have been asked anytime in the last few weeks as well. It is not an overstatement to say that British politics is at its most turbulent in years, with Parliament in disarray and party members shifting from the left and right to a vague, undefined centre. Conversations free of references to political tumult are rare, especially in the media. There is no doubt that this will have affected young people’s current perception of the UK, leading to potential confusion and political apathy or possibly a heightened sense of the importance of speaking up and taking action. Could The Independent Group (TIG) present a catch-all solution to contemporary issues, or does it merely mask deeper problems with the UK’s political system? Could it even set a precedent for the future that young people can get on board with?

The possibilities are many, and it would seem for Primary pupils it could revive the public’s faith in Parliament, while Secondary students seem marginally more sceptical.

New Political Party Secondary ResultsDB3E-tdUAAUlrLM

Since the question was put to students almost two years ago, there have been many other pressing political issues at hand that have been debated and helped develop their views on the current state of politics. The most obvious of these is, of course, Brexit. When feeding back on our topic about whether the UK should stay in the single market, students did not just assess their views on this issue, but their political awareness in general, with one arguing  that ‘we need to talk about more politics to help us get ready for the real world’, and many simply expressing their bewilderment about the whole situation. These views apply across the spectrum of young people’s knowledge of and engagement with politics, and the prospect of a new political party is likely to be no exception. With this in mind, what could the repercussions of a new party be in terms of young people’s political engagement?

Thinking pessimistically first, a new party could cause significant delays in young people taking an interest in politics or feeling confident in their understanding. Supposedly, TIG was born out of ‘a wish to stop Brexit’, for which it has been both praised and criticised. Presumably, this means it could well have a limited shelf-life and therefore won’t be able to make good on any promises made beyond final negotiations with the EU. Not only this, but there are other key problems that young people feel very strongly about and are deeply affected by, such as the current knife crime epidemic, debates surrounding citizenship and ongoing NHS woes. If it is to be believed that TIG is an ideological one-trick pony, then they may well not have much to offer young people who are likely to be thinking about the long-term effects of the leadership and the actions that need to be taken on a range of issues.

However, this particularly pessimistic view is couched in a select few of the media’s assessments of The Independent Group and the prospect of a new party. When setting out their initial approach, which did not specifically pinpoint dodging a no-deal Brexit as the end goal, TIG themselves asserted they would ‘aim to recognise the value of healthy debate, show tolerance towards different opinions and seek to reach across outdated divides and build consensus to tackle Britain’s problems’. With a young population so crying out to have their voices heard, this is quite the mission statement. They also laid out a list of 11 ‘values’, many of which chime with contemporary concerns amongst students. For example, following the mass school walkouts in protest over climate change in February and with a second imminent, TIG highlight how they ‘have a responsibility to future generations to protect our environment’.

Somewhere in the middle of these two views is the opportunity that TIG could also represent for young people to change not only laws, rulings and policies, but the political system itself. In the press’ assessment of the group and what it could mean for UK politics, the first-past-the-post system was a consistent sticking point. Some praised it because it will likely prevent the breakaway group from making any real impact in the next general election, while others bemoaned it for the same reason; some went as far as saying it ‘strangles new, insurgent parties at birth’. If TIG were to gain enough traction with young people, but still be woefully underrepresented, this could inadvertently educate new voters about the shortcomings of the UK’s political system in terms of representation. Similarly, if the party were to defy the odds despite first-past-the-post, this could instill a new hope for change in young people (provided TIG is who they wished to see in power, of course!).

Hopefully, the future of UK politics are not just debating in classrooms up and down the country, but are already out and taking a stand. After all, in a recent debate about aspirations, 82.5% of Primary pupils decided that you could achieve anything you want to if you put your mind to it, and this has certainly been reflected in recent student action – it’s got the world sat up and listening. It looks to us like there is a bright future ahead, but how it will manifest is yet to be seen.

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This post has only scratched the surface in terms of the precedent a new party could set for UK politics and the population. For more in-depth, up-to-the-minute analysis of all things political, why not try one of the following:

*The Economist also do a series of daily and weekly podcasts.


Georgie is the Schools Relationship Officer at VotesforSchools, though she also helps out with content. Her blog series, Power to the Pupils, will take a retrospective look at how the results of the debates by young people in the classroom are coming to fruition – or not, as the case may be. Please email her at georgie@votesforschools.com if you have any questions or comments about this post or future ones.

Cover Image Credit: BBC News

A Teacher’s tips for Sex and Relationship Lessons in Key Stage 2

Sex and relationships is one of those topics that has given teachers many a sleepless night, especially when faced with a chatty Year 6 class! Here are three things that have helped me, which I hope might make the process a little easier for others.

  1. Use social media to start a conversation

With the widespread use of technology amongst Primary-age children, sex and relationship education now has to account for internet-savvy classes. For example, a key safeguarding issue is staying safe when on apps, which can be (and are) widely used by KS2 children, despite having age restrictions.

I’ve always found that Year 6 children love discussing social media, and hence it provides a great hook to begin discussing the related SRE topics. These including staying safe online and the rise of ‘sexting’. The NSPCC has some great advice about talking to children about these issues.

  1. Become comfortable about terminology

One of the most original ways I saw SRE being taught was when I observed a very experienced teacher introducing the topic of puberty to a group of Year 6 boys (classes had been split by gender for this lesson). He began the lesson by asking the class for every word and slang phrase for the male and female body parts and wrote each one down on the board! Not only did this serve as a brilliant icebreaker for a group of apprehensive children, but was also a great way of getting a lot of the silliness and embarrassment out in the open and out of the way at the start of the lesson. It simultaneously provided a great opportunity to address misconceptions about terminology from the get-go.

  1. Create a space for questions

Another activity that I’ve found to be effective when addressing misconceptions is allowing the class to anonymously write questions down before or after the lesson. This way the teacher can answer questions directly, or research issues with the class in time for the next session. You’d be astonished at what students were too afraid to ask in public! Make sure to remind classes that the questions are anonymous, and of course follow your school’s safeguarding policy should any concerns arise as a result of a particular question.

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The government has recently published the results of its 2018 SRE Consultation. Whilst awaiting publication of guidance in line with this consultation, the government’s SRE Guidance from 2000 (which you can find here) provides some useful advice and tips.

VotesforSchools provides weekly lessons that address often sensitive and topical issues – like many topics in SRE – that can be debated and discussed in the classroom. Check out the website or email info@votesforschools.com for more information.

Plastic: A Sea Change?

All the way back in October 2017, thousands of young voters shared their thoughts on ‘Will Blue Planet 2 convince people to use less plastic?’ The results were fairly unsurprising given David Attenborough’s sombre warnings at the end of each episode. As is often the way, primary pupils took a more optimistic view, while secondary and college students were divided. But who was right?

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Since 2017, the shift in attitudes towards single-use plastic and plastic pollution has been seismic: superstores such as Asda and Tesco, along with major chains such as Pret a Manger and Hilton, have pledged to completely overhaul their approach to waste and recycling in the near future. Judging by these changes alone, it would seem that Blue Planet 2 achieved what it set out to*. However, such a claim requires closer inspection.

Of course, movement towards reducing plastic waste had already been made prior to the release of the series; the quarter of a million tonnes of it in the ocean was getting hard to ignore. For instance, a single-use plastic carrier bag charge was introduced in 2015, and numbers have fallen by almost 90% across the country since. In 2016, “71.4% of UK packaging waste was either recycled or recovered,” exceeding EU targets. Yet, what Blue Planet 2 indicated was a distinct and relatively abrupt change in mindset from the majority.

Politicians were some of the first to use Blue Planet 2 as a way of fast-tracking a reduction in plastic waste. The first episode of the series aired in October 2017, and hot on its heels at the end of November was Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget, which paid particular attention to the UK becoming “a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic, littering our planet and our oceans”. Mr Hammond specifically cited the programme and how audiences across the country, glued to Blue Planet 2, have been starkly reminded of the problems of plastics pollution”. Similarly, in the lead-up to the government’s launch of a 25-Year Environment Plan, Michael Gove claimed to have been “haunted by images of the damage done to the world’s oceans. You can see a summary of the targets set out in the plan below.

Whether these references were used tactically by politicians to give an impression of compassion or were anchored in genuinely good intentions, Blue Planet 2’s influence on the behaviour of UK citizens is undeniable. If nothing else, habits are likely to be changed due to financial incentives (5p bag charges) or simply from a lack of plastic resources to dispose of (the government has since “announced its intention to ban the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds in England. The Welsh Government has indicated that it would be interested in collaborating on the ban).

But our question did not focus on what the government would do about plastic pollution or how people would be corralled into new habits. It focused on what the UK population might do to help of their own volition. Following the series, which had a staggering 17 million viewers, a Blue Planet-specific survey was carried out. According to the BBC, “62% of surveyed UK audiences [said] they wanted to make changes in their daily lives to reduce pollution of our oceans” after watching the programme. It seems, however small, change is afoot (or rather, a-fin).

Since our debate on plastic, VotesforSchools has covered a range of topics about the environment, including; setting half the world aside for wildlife, whether eating bugs will save the planet, and the impact of fast fashion on global emissions. Here’s hoping there will be similar evidence of a shift in public attitudes in the years to come.

If this topic has encouraged you to change your habits or learn more, why not try one of the following:

Or, if you just want to relive the majesty of Blue Planet 2, you can find it on BBC iPlayer.


Georgie is the Schools Relationship Officer at VotesforSchools. Her blog series, Power to the Pupils, will take a retrospective look at how the results of the debates by young people in the classroom are coming to fruition (or not, as the case may be). Please email her at georgie@votesforschools.com if you have any questions about this post or suggestions of topics you’d like to see covered in future.

Header Image Credit: YouTube

Three tips on teaching British Values in the primary classroom

Although teaching British Values is an OFSTED requirement, many schools struggle to fit it into a busy school week. It can become a black cloud hanging over teachers with no obvious solution. How do you actually weave British Values into lessons to evidence that they’re being taught? And all without being too “box-ticky”? Most importantly, how do you make British Values exciting to teach and fun to learn?

Here are three tips from what I have learnt from other teachers to make covering British Values easier:

  1. Make your classroom a space for debate and discussion

Participation in democracy is one of the key British Values, and getting your class debating and discussing is a great way to evidence this (but is not always easy). The key I found to capturing pupils’ interest was finding a topic that interests them that also links to a live issue. I’ve spoken to teachers who use VotesforSchools lessons on eating insects and renting clothes to get pupils used to debating. One did this as a 5-10 minute intro to a core subject, getting pupils to debate eating insects as a starter to a science lesson. I also know teachers who will run a debate during circle time at least once a fortnight.

  1. Build on knowledge of other faiths and religions

Many topical issues in the news either feature religious views or feature issues that people with different religious beliefs would have different attitudes towards. This provides an opportunity to a) show why Religious Education is vital to understanding the world around us and b) cover the British Values curriculum. One teacher told me how they do plenaries in RE lessons which ask pupils what perspective someone from the faith they are currently studying might take on an issue that is in the news. For instance, they asked pupils to think about how someone who is Hindu might react to people eating insects.  

  1. Covering the ‘rule of law’

Here’s a tricky one for Primary schools: how to involve the teaching of ‘rule of law’ in lessons. It neither seems like an easy nor an interesting area of the curriculum. However there are parts to it which pupils will want to discuss. Here are some ideas for subjects that might captivate pupils:

  • whether your high street is disability-friendly
  • whether we should leave people who live in uncontacted or remote tribes alone
  • whether half of the world should be fenced off just for animals/wildlife

In all of these, you can touch on what the laws are and whether people respect them. Any schools using the VotesforSchools programme, have been able to use their resources to teach each of these topics.

VotesforSchools’ resources are designed to be mapped specifically to the British Values curriculum, and the weekly topics mean they make scheduling simple. There is a fantastic team of teachers who work tirelessly every week to make stimulating lessons that focus on the issues that matter. For more information check out www.votesforschools.com or email info@votesforschools.com.

Rob is a primary school teacher who also assists the VotesforSchools content team in producing new lessons each week.