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How to help students find their voice

All teenagers have one thing in common, no matter who they are or where they come from: they want their voices to be heard. This may not seem like a positive attribute when students are chatting through your lessons, but when it comes to democratic engagement it’s definitely worth encouraging.

With European Local Democracy Week beginning on 13 October − right in the middle of party conference season − this is the perfect time to talk to your students about what it means to have a vote.

All over the country, councils will be using Local Democracy Week to reach young people by working with schools to organise events such as “Question Time” sessions, open council meetings and opportunities to meet local councillors.

Last year, Stoke-on-Trent City Council ran the My City, My Say budget challenge for secondary schools, in which students voted for the local services that were most important to them and deserved more funding. And in a bid to get students to compare the relative merits of different voting systems, Reigate and Banstead Borough Council held “chocolate elections”, asking sixth-formers to vote for their favourite chocolate bar.

These activities engage young people in meaningful debate within a context they can relate to and could all be adapted for use in your school with a little effort.

A less labour-intensive alternative is to download a free resource such as the Rock Enrol! pack produced by the Cabinet Office Democratic Engagement Programme.

The materials in the pack are designed to help students to understand why and how they should take part in the electoral process. They can be used for PSHE and citizenship lessons at key stage 4 or to support the post-16 Extended Project Qualification.

The pack also contains several short activities that would be perfect for a topical tutor time session during Local Democracy Week.

Secondary students will never be short of opinions; knowing how to harness those views and make their voices count is a different matter. Resources such as Rock Enrol! might not stop the nattering at the back of your classroom, but they will help students to understand the power of voting and encourage them to speak up about issues of genuine importance.

That’s not a bad consolation prize.

You can download Rock Enrol! from TES, or try one of these further  resources for teaching about democracy:

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