Just before the lockdown of 2020, two Student Hubs staff members had an idea – how do we improve political literacy amongst young people in the UK. Over the next two years, the programme turned from a conversation between two colleagues, to a fully fledged project that has engaged over 40 young people – so far!
Why do we need Inspire Debate Change?
Student Hubs staff members identified the necessity for extra-curricular citizenship education as studies suggested that including citizenship education into the key stage 2 curriculum would provide opportunities for pupils’ personal development, such as, improved engagement and behaviour. Additionally, studies suggested that including citizenship education into the curriculum would bring a variety of community benefits such as increased confidence, engagement with local democracy and decision-making. Providing a form of citizenship education clearly provided additional opportunities for young people however, this education was not being provided.
These findings were shared in a meeting with the then Student Hubs Network Director, Sim. Together, they began to develop the programme. A main priority was to ensure that the students’ voice is present throughout the programme. It is important that students are represented in opportunities which are made specifically for them to get involved in.
Therefore, a series of focus groups were run to gain Bristol & Southampton University students’ opinions on civic education for Primary schools children aged 7-11 years old. It was identified that civic education would be more appropriate to teach children aged 9-11 years old. Additionally, these focus group discussions highlighted potential topics which could be taught in Inspire Debate Change Workshops. These included voting, parliament, laws & rights and effecting change. This culminated in identifying that the best way for young people to grasp these concepts would be by making these sessions interactive and hands-on, for example, allowing young people to make their own posters to demonstrate how to engage people in marches.
Whilst these discussions were taking place, the Covid pandemic broke out. Whilst this caused disruptions in schools and universities, it allowed Student Hubs staff members time to flesh out Inspire Debate Change and develop four workshops which would be delivered to the primary, and secondary, school children.
After our initial work on the project over the summer, we kicked into action after the summer break by recruiting student coordinators for the project. By October 2020, we had four students – Manveer and Sofia in Southampton, and Hannah and Zac in Bristol – who were tasked with moving the project forward. From October to April, they worked together virtually to assess the workshops, make the PowerPoint presentations and any necessary resources for the workshop.
Ultimately, this resulted in the four workshops that were originally planned being turned into six, one hour workshops, a workbook being made for the participants to accompany them along their journey on the programme, and promotional materials being made to advertise for a pilot.
Once the team felt we were ready, we recruited six young people for the workshops between Southampton and Bristol, and the pilot ran for seven weeks (including a reflection workshop) between May and June 2021. The sessions were run over Zoom, with the original workshops adapted to work online. We had really positive feedback from the young people who took part, including:
- 100% of the young people enjoyed the sessions and would recommend them to a friend
100% of the young people agreed that they felt more confident in their knowledge of UK politics, 84% agreed that they felt confident debating their beliefs, and 100% agreed that they knew how to make change
One young person said: ‘It was very interesting and opened my mind to many new concepts and ideas. The PowerPoints were informative and interesting.’
Where we are now
After our pilot, we took forward the project to run in schools as a long term volunteering project. In Bristol, we run the project over 6 1 hour long sessions throughout 6 weeks, primarily working with 9-11 year olds and in our 2nd year of delivery in this format. In Southampton, we are in our second year of full time delivery, with primary and secondary schools, years 5 to 9. We have been really lucky to receive funding to support Inspire, Debate, Change, from Southampton City Council and the University of Bristol for 2023, which has made such a difference to the long term reality of the project.
We are excited to see where this project goes in the future, and for more university students to get involved in empowering the electorate of the future.