Government and politics is an A-level which is chosen by pupils for several reasons. However, at some institutions that reason might be simply that there was nothing else to choose. I personally found this very challenging as a large percentage of my pupils were left with this A-level as the only remaining option. Engaging pupils is a battle at the best of times and it is no easy task. However, there are one or two things that you can do early on, and throughout, which will turn their apathy into energy.
1. Start off easy. When introducing the syllabus, introduce it lightly and look at the political parties without too much detail to begin with. When doing this, it would be good to tie this in with one or two current issues and the parties approach to that issue. The first few bits of homework should be based on the news, and definitely watch Question Time in the first lesson and spend time deconstructing the language as a class. This will help them access it.
2. Be prepared to railroad the lesson plan. As you progress through the year, pupils will automatically start switching on to current affairs the more you mention them. There will be points where your pupils will have discussed this as a group before coming into the lesson and want to ask loads of questions about the issue. This happened to me this year with the vote to run bombing campaigns in Syria. Be prepared for this and make sure that you link this to the curriculum – let them be inspired by realising how it all links together.
3. Extra curricular is essential. Before you even start the year fully, make contacts with local MPs offices and ask for them to come and do a talk. Equally, email the political parties HQ’s and ascertain their willingness to come in and recruit. Depending on how many students you have, you could organise a ‘membership fair’ after Christmas with trade unions, students’ unions (good link to universities!) and political parties – contacting their local bases will be easier. A trip to Downing Street is obvious. Use all of this to get them ‘rubbing shoulders’ with leaders as the charisma of these leaders will also inspire them. Just be careful about ensuring that there is fair access to all parties having an opportunity to engage with pupils.
4. Set up, or be involved with, an FE Students’ Union. This gives you the opportunity to run an election in which they campaign and get involved with. Offer to host a hustings, give some training and speech writing classes and make a cross curricular link with the English department. This is another way in which politics comes to life. Pick a more complicated electoral system which is proportional and even lobby SLT to give them an initial budget.
The trick to engaging pupils with politics as a whole, and this extends to those that do not study it as well as those that do, is to bring it to life for them. This means an experiential based approach to helping them learn about politics is essential. Get the pupils to involve their friends; if you’re lucky enough to be teaching this subject during a General Election, referendum result or US Presidential Election – organise a sleepover in the institution with pizza and let them watch coverage all night.
This may sound basic, and I don’t doubt that most of you will have thought of this already, but it is easy to get carried away with planning amazing lessons and forget about the extra stuff which I have found to be essential.
Edward Graham-Hyde is a fully qualified teacher that currently lectures in social science whilst completing a PhD in sociology and education.