Ted's teaching tips

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Ted's teaching tips

One reason often given for introducing citizenship as a subject in schools is that young people are apathetic about politics. During the party conference season the television news will be dominated by images of political people and events, but will the present generation know or care about them?

Party conferences

Which are the three largest parties in Parliament and what does each of them stand for (ask children to write a sentence or two on each, should illuminate whether they are well informed, confused, indifferent)? When, where and why do the conferences take place (seaside resorts in the autumn may be a throwback to former times, when this was a rare treat, but "why?" is the difficult question, as parties do not always base their policies on conference decisions)? Who do we expect to see on our screens (party leaders; spokespeople on education, health; ordinary members' moments of glory)? What does it mean when people say conferences are "stage-managed" (genuine debate stifled, impression of jolly unity given, but mavericks often prepared to spoil the show)?

Politics and media

Simply ask "Who is this?" Many will recognise William Hague, even though he is not in the government, so why are parties keen on press coverage (television reaches millions, leaders' faces become well known through exposure, personality cult develops whereby the issues are personalised)? How do the parties exploit TV (large set with slogan, such as "common sense"; party colours and sympathetic lighting; giant screen highlights individual speaking; members nod approval, applaud to show unity)? What devices do speakers use (simple, snappy phrases, slogans and three key points; hand gestures for emphasis; rising voice to solicit applause - "We will give a million pounds to every family in Britain")?

Voting apathy

Will you vote when you are 18? Why did so many young people fail to vote at the last election? If young people ignore politics, what might the consequences be (best people do not go into Parliament, indifference can lead to public ignorance about how decisions are made and manipulation by those in power)?


(a) Take a political report of a party conference speech and compare it with one on the same topic from another party's event. (b) Watch a television news item from a party conference and imagine you are a Martian, seeing it all for the first time. What do you make of it?

Ted Wragg is professor of education at the University of Exeter Talking points

Should party political broadcasts be banned from radio and television?


Party political broadcasts are boring, valued only by the committed, disliked by everyone else. They are distorted, presenting party dogma as fact, disparaging opponents, and are guaranteed transmission however bad they are. They are like advertisements, so the parties should have to pay for airtime.


It is right to allow parties to address voters directly. In a democracy we have to know what the political parties stand for, even if the topic bores some people. It would be unfair if the richer parties were able to buy more airtime than the poorer ones. People see through bogus claims, and inaccuracies are gleefully reported by the press.

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