Encouraging children to engage with current affairs is not easy, but it is possible. Nick Morrison reports on a course that is increasing political awareness
Politics and fun are perhaps not natural bedfellows, at least not since Charles Kennedy quit the Liberal Democrat leadership, but combining the two is the key to an attempt to get pupils interested in current affairs. Mock debates and Prime Minister's questions feature in a nine-week course that is designed to increase political awareness and show teenagers why politics and citizenship matter.
The pound;750 course is run by the Blue Sky Foundation, set up by Rebekah Duffield, a former music teacher, and uses methods from debate and public speaking to letter writing and research. It is based on the assumption that children are political, even though there are signs they are not party political, says Rebekah.
The pollsters Mori found that only 37 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in last year's general election, down from 39 per cent in 2001 and compared with 70 per cent of over 70s.
Rebekah set up the foundation with Ranil Jayawardena, a former political researcher, last year, and after running the programme in two Hampshire schools, they now aim to take it further afield. She says they aim to offer something not already available in schools.
"We have always been interested in politics and saw there was a space in schools to talk about political issues," she says. "We want to make children more aware of what's going on and make them better speakers.
"Citizenship is on the curriculum but sometimes these issues are best taught in an extra-curricular fashion. We make politics fun and we believe it is something young people should be involved with and not apathetic about. Our emphasis is not just on talking about it but getting children to do it and apply it."
The programme, which runs for an hour a week, includes mock debates and Prime Minister's questions, problem solving, research techniques, letter writing skills and memorising statistics, not just for debates but to use in class.
Although it is all about getting children interested in politics, Rebekah says they do not take a party political stance. The Foundation lists among its supporters David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, Boris Johnson, the shadow higher education minister, Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem leader and Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party.
"We're not preaching a political message, we're a non-partisan organisation. We have our political opinions but we want to encourage the children to have their opinions," says Rebekah