Political debate in class 'crucial' to getting young people involved

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Schools should discuss political issues in the classroom in order to get more young people to engage with politics, a study has suggested.

The research involving 800 students was carried by the University of Edinburgh.

The study found that class debate was the greatest factor influencing civic attitudes of 16 and 17-year-olds, above discussions with parents or friends.

It also concluded that Scottish young people were better politically informed than those elsewhere in the UK.

The survey of students - half in Scotland and half in other parts of the UK - found those north of the border were more politically engaged than those elsewhere in the country.

The university team found that those who had taken a school course in which politics and society were discussed - such as Modern Studies in Scotland - were less likely to find politics difficult to understand.

In Scotland, young people aged 16 and 17 were allowed to participate in the independence referendum in 2014, but not in the 2015 general election.

However, MSPs have backed plans to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in elections to the Scottish Parliament in May next year.

How engaged were 16 and 17-year-olds in the general election?

How many would have voted in the general election?

  • 67% of 16 and 17- year-old Scots surveyed said they would have been "very likely" to vote had they been eligible to do so.
  • 39% of those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said the same.

How many took part in non-electoral political engagement? (ie petitioning or writing to an MP)

  • 57% of Scottish people reported that they had done so.
  • 40% of those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said the same.
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How many used three or more different types of information sources to learn about the general election?

  • 60% in Scotland.
  • 43% of those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How many discussed how the UK is governed with members of their family, during the three months preceding February's survey?

  • 63% in Scotland.
  • 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.

In Scotland, 50% of adults 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.

Following their findings, the researchers have said that all senior school pupils should learn about political structures and processes and be given the opportunity to discuss political issues in the classroom.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Jan Eichhorn from the University of Edinburgh's School of Social and Political Science, said: "Through good political education in schools and early voter enfranchisement, we get the next generation of young people to understand the relevance of politics better and engage in it more extensively.

"But we need to ensure that all young people can discuss political issues in a qualified way in classroom settings.

"It can't be left to chance, because of where they live, whether they are supported in their first engagement with politics."

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