The European Union referendum, one of the biggest decisions the general public has been asked to take in recent times, has made this a challenging time to be a modern studies teacher.
Overall, the engagement from pupils was fantastic, in terms of the questions they asked and the discussions and debates they wanted to have. However, I wouldn’t describe it as fun when 16-year-olds are asking you “What happens now?” and “Why didn’t we get a say on our future?”
I don’t know how to answer in a positive manner – to try to explain to them that their futures might not be as secure or bright as we would like is heartbreaking. Then again, maybe it will be OK. We just do not know.
The pupils have been very astute in noticing what is happening around them and engaging with the coverage of Brexit, which is fantastic to see as a modern studies teacher. They want to know, for example, “Will this trigger a second independence referendum?”, “Will Scotland join with Northern Ireland?” and even “Will the Queen stop Brexit if she doesn’t want us to leave the EU?”
All interesting and valid questions. But with no answers and no other examples on which to draw, trying to provide even a guess is incredibly difficult. Working out simple ways of explaining the stock markets and why the pound has crashed to its lowest level in 30-odd years is hardly straightforward. With the summer break upon us, pupils want to know why it will cost more to go on holiday and to visit relatives in other countries.
Attempting to stay professional and impartial is not easy when you are aware that there are no answers to pupils’ questions. There is a clear anxiety and nervousness in their enquiries and the uncertainty about their futures is clearly concerning them. At a time when the political parties of the UK seem to be experiencing change on an hourly basis, and when we have no clear path of progress, our classroom resources on democracy will certainly be changing rather rapidly.
There are angry, anxious and perplexed pupils who do not understand why, given such a momentous decision that will have major impacts on their future, they were not allowed to have a voice. So it is not a fun time to be a modern studies teacher, as I cannot give any guidance or reassurance on what will lie ahead for them.
Of course, the outcome has not been set in stone and, as they say, a week is a long time in politics. But these are unprecedented times – the week after 23 June was a very long one indeed.
Sarah Tennant is a modern studies teacher