Ministers have refused to discuss upcoming new resources to help secondary schools teach pupils about democracy – even though schools imminently need the information.
The idea was first mooted by the government last December and it has been mentioned at least twice since by the minister taking the lead on it.
But with the July date for the first ever national democracy week – a new initiative by the Cabinet Office and involving the Department for Education – fast approaching, schools are in the dark about the proposals after both departments refused to answer Schools Week’s questions about who is developing the resources, and how and when they will be delivered to schools.
Plans for the resource were first mentioned over six months ago in the government’s policy paper ‘Every voice matters: Building a democracy that works for everyone’.
The document described “a package of approaches”, which would include providing schools with “resources on the history of democracy with specific focus on the Suffrage movement, and what this history means in terms of modern day civic engagement and democratic participation”.
You need a much more vivid, vibrant experience of what democracy means
The resources were mooted again by cabinet office minister Chloe Smith in a Commons debate in February. During the discussion about national democracy week, Smith said schools would “have their part to play”, and that materials would include “a schools resource pack with a specific focus on the suffrage movement at secondary school level”.
In a parliamentary written answer earlier this month, Smith again referenced national democracy week, and pledged to launch the secondary schools resource “later this year”.
National democracy week is a new scheme designed to promote democratic engagement in young people. According to the government, it is a “week-long celebration of democracy in society, including events, talks and fun activities, an opportunity to celebrate progress and champion future democratic participation”.
Launching on July 2, the event this year will focus on the centenary of women’s suffrage.
Fiona Carnie, a writer and educationalist who works in student voice, told Schools Week there is a shortage of approaches for national democracy week that involved schools and education.
“Planning to just teaching kids about what an election is and how you vote is not going to cut it – you need a much more vivid, vibrant experience of what democracy means,” she insisted.
Pupils should be treated as “partners” in the school system, she added, and could be better engaged through activities such as taking part in selection panels for new members of staff or helping to develop their school’s homework policy.
“They actually have to experience it and see that actively participating either in school or in their communities makes a difference.”
Liz Moorse, the chief executive Association for Citizenship Teaching, said: “Anything that is going to come out to support schools in delivering high-quality citizenship and democracy education is going to be useful, because it has slipped down the agenda in many schools.
“The run up to the first national democracy week is an important time to be thinking about these sorts of issues.”
The DfE said more information would be announced “in due course”, but the Cabinet Office declined to comment.