Teaching and politics have an uneasy relationship – the way educators work is heavily influenced by the decisions of politicians, yet expressing our views in the classroom remains controversial.
In the grand ranking of topics that excite pupils, the EU referendum is probably not residing in the top spot. Yet, if you’ve been anywhere near a newspaper, social media site or TV, the ongoing Brexit debacle is clearly at the forefront of the public’s mind.
One difficulty, particularly in subjects like citizenship and politics, is trying to maintain an objective view of the conflicting perspectives that are taught in class.
So, how can you make the subject exciting for your class, whilst remaining objective?
Do your pupils understand what the EU is?
If not, this could be a good place to start. Ensuring your pupils have a good understanding of the EU ─ including the basics of the union, its responsibilities and why the UK entered it in the first place, will lay down the foundations.
Once this is done, it would be a good idea to offer examples of arguments to leave or to remain in the EU. It is important that this part of the lesson is taught as impartially as possible, to avoid influencing any of the pupils’ opinion.
Immigration and the refugee crisis is a pertinent issue of the debate; this can be a tough topic to cover with young pupils. Ensuring young children understand migration is one step in helping them to see the issue at hand. Take a factual, sensitive approach to this subject, ensuring definitions of key terms such as refugee, asylum seeker and migrant are thoroughly explained.
Teaching pupils about the history of democracy, and the differences between democracy and dictatorship, is another way to help pupils think about the EU and the way in which our political system works.
Flags can offer a fun, visual way to engage with the EU – a set of flashcards with the 28 countries in the union could encourage pupils to learn about the countries in the EU and how they work together.
The following are suggestions on how you can encourage your pupils to think about the EU and the effects of both campaigns on the UK:
- Compare a democratic political system with a dictatorship using this fully-resourced lesson, which includes a debate line activity to help to develop critical thinking skills
- Use historical sources from the Parliamentary Archives to explore the historical events that have impacted on democracy in the UK
- Visit Unicef’s The Important of Child Rights Education After Brexit article, to ensure your pupils understand about their rights during such a time
Both sides of the divide highlight the impact the EU has on daily life in the UK, but how much do your pupils actually understand about it? It would be a good idea to highlight to your class the several areas which are affected by decisions made in Brussels, such as the environment, consumer rights and equality.
Encouraging pupils to think and engage with the topics themselves will help them to explore the issues surrounding Brexit. Unfortunately, newspapers and the internet can paint a very distorted view – with leave and remain campaigners ‘mudslinging’ in order to curry favour and gain traction. Although Britain did vote to leave the EU, until Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50, we will continue to remain.
Encourage pupils to further their reasoning and find additional evidence to support their views. This will ensure that views are not being collated from the media or political discourse, and will not discourage pupils from voicing their opinions.
Conducting a live debate could be a useful way in allowing pupils to voice their opinions and see both sides of the argument. Teachers can employ the ‘neutral judge’ approach and chair the debate, offering constructive feedback on pupils’ opinions.
Being constantly bombarded with opinions, facts and figures can sometimes be confusing. So, here is a list of a few facts and common questions that pupils could be unsure about:
- Can Ms May trigger Article 50 without parliament?
The government argues that it has the executive powers to set Brexit in motion alone, but back in November the High Court ruled that the matter requires an act of parliament.
- Can the Supreme Court stop Brexit?
In theory, Commons could decide that the UK will not leave the EU.
- What will happen to EU citizens living in the UK?
The government has declined to give a firm guarantee about the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK.
- How long will this take?
Assuming Ms May is still planning to go ahead with her plan to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, the actual process of withdrawal must be completed within a two-year time frame – according to the treaty.
- Will I need a visa to travel to the EU?
While there could be limitations on British nationals’ ability to live and work in EU countries, it seems unlikely they would want to deter tourists.
- What is a single market?
Britain was a member of a free trade area in Europe before it joined the EU, which was known back then as the common market. In a free trade area, countries can trade with each other without paying tariffs – but this is not a single market as the states do not have to merge their economies together.
The EU is a single market, and was completed in 1992 – allowing the free movement of goods, services, money and people within the EU, as if it were a single country.
This week, every secondary school in the UK will receive a resource pack to help them teach pupils about Brexit and the Article 50 process. The pack will contain material which will help to educate secondary school pupils about the judiciary’s role in the democratic process – assisting schools that have been struggling to find ways to discuss the high-profile case with pupils. We will be using these resources to put together easy-to-use guidance to assist you in teaching your pupils about this pertinent issue.
Our Supporting Pupils with EAL Post Brexit guidance document considers how to make pupils with English as an additional language feel safe and welcome in school, in addition to offering strategies to promote cohesion and address prejudice.