Political literacy: why county MP Cat Smith says schools should be teaching it.

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A Lancashire MP says the school curriculum needs a shake-up – so youngsters learn political literacy.

 

Cat Smith, Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood and shadow minister for young people and democracy,says much needs to be done to ensure young people understand more about the political system at every level before they leave school.

This knowledge will, she said, help them throughout their lives – whatever their political persuasion.

Calling for bursaries to enable current citizenship teachers to increase their expertise and confidence in teaching the subject and for it to be part of all teacher training courses, she said: “I think political literacy is very poor in our country. I would like to see it improved. You meet people of all opinions who don’t understand how politics works.”

Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith

Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith

Political literacy applies she said so that people know what to do if they see a pothole, who to report it to, who will pay to mend it and who makes the decision when to mend it. It applies too to debates on global warming and who has the power to change things right through to who decides if a country will go to war? Such literacy is also, she said necessary to understand how to hold politicians to account…an issue currently at the forefront of MPs’ minds following the Government’s conduct in the wake of the report on the behaviour of former MP Owen Paterson.

Cat said: “The vast majority of politicians are doing their best to make their community and our country a better place to live. The events of last week were so disheartening… I am so frustrated and upset about events last week.”

She continued: “Why is COP (26) important? How do I elect (politicians) How do I fire them as well? …Political literacy is that fundamental understanding of how our political and democratic systems operate at every level….I see this as an MP. People recognise a problem – but they don’t know how to fix it.”

Cat is a co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Political Literacy which is campaigning for better citizenship education “so that young people regardless of background, can play an informed, active role as citizens in our democracy.”

Last week the Political Literacy Parliamentary Group teamed up with the Unviersity of Sheffield and social enterprise ShoutOut UK to publish a report by Dr James Weinberg of the University of Sheffield. In a foreword tot eh report Cat wrote: “This report comes at a time when many Western democracies are seeing declining voting rates amongst younger voters. We’ve got a real problem in England engaging young people in voting and the democratic process. I know that quite often young people tell me one of the barriers they feel is their limited knowledge about politics.”

Cat said the report had shown that while a majority of teachers felt they had a responsibility to teach political literacy, only one per cent felt fully prepared to do so :”Quite clearly more needs to be done in supporting teachers to deliver that education with confidence.”

She said she would also extend political literacy to include media literacy too, so that people can have a clearer understanding of the trustworthiness of the information they are consuming. She said: “That goes hand in glove with political literacy..”

There is she said a need to: “make sure our classrooms become that safe space where they (pupils) can explore and develop these skills to be able to analyse media and understand political issues.”

They also needed to acquire analytic skills.

Such education should begin at primary school and Cat said when making school visits she pitches her information according to the age group.

Growing up as a teenager in Barrow in Furness Cat says she absolutely had no political literacy. But later, while a student, as a member of the Methodist Youth Network she became interested in issues of international and global debt. She said: “I think I would have definitely benefited if it had been part of my curriculum at school.”

* The Missing link. An updated evaluation of the provision, practice and politics and democratic education in English secondary schools.” by Dr James Weinberg of the Unviersity of Sheffield is based on a survey of 3,300 secondary school teachers and parents of more than 1,500 secondary pupils.