Study Suggests Political Discussion in Classroom is Crucial for Young People

Date: 10th June 2015

Discussing political issues in the classroom plays a crucial role in getting young people to participate in the democratic process, a study by the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh suggests.

Students who engaged in discussion about political issues in class were significantly more likely to vote and be engaged with politics in a variety of other ways, researchers found. No other factor - such as discussing politics with parents or friends - has greater influence in determining the civic attitudes of 16 and 17 year olds, according to the study.

UK differences include:

- Analysis of the factors that might encourage young people to take part in politics found substantial differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

- The University of Edinburgh team surveyed 800 16-17 year olds - half in Scotland and half in other parts of the UK - and found that students in Scotland were more politically engaged than those elsewhere.

- Two thirds of 16 and 17 year old Scots surveyed said they would have been "very likely" to vote had they been eligible to do so in the General Election. Only 39% of 16-17 year olds elsewhere in the UK said the same. In Scotland, 16-17 year olds were allowed to participate in the independence referendum in 2014, but not in the recent General Election.

- Scottish 16 and 17 year olds are also more likely to have taken part in other forms of non-electoral political engagement, such as petitioning and writing to a Member of Parliament. A total of 57 per cent reported that they had done so, compared with 40 per cent in the rest of the UK.

- Young people in Scotland were better informed about politics than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

- 60% of Scottish pupils used three or more different types of information sources to learn about the General Election in the three months preceding the survey, which was carried out in February 2015. This compared with 43% of 16 and 17 year olds elsewhere in the UK.

- In Scotland, 63% of those surveyed said they had discussed how the UK is governed in the three months preceding the survey with members of their family. This compared with only 39% of those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

- Amongst adults, giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote was also substantially more popular in Scotland. 50% of those expressing a view felt that young people should be allowed to vote in all elections, compared with 30% in England, 33% in Wales and 34% in Northern Ireland.

Together is currently working in partnership with Education Scotland to ensure that efforts to engage children in political literacy in schools are inclusive, taking a child rights approach to reflect Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (the right to non-discrimination). It is important that all children are provided with the opportunity to meaningfully participate and be involved, particularly focusing on support for vulnerable groups. This includes children excluded from school, children not in mainstream education and children with additional support needs.