Votes at 16 throws challenge to education

With 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the 2021 Senedd Elections following the lowering of the voting age, the Welsh Government has committed to ensuring schools in Wales will be equipped with politically neutral teaching materials and additional teacher support by July 2020.

The biggest change to Wales’ voting system in 50 years means that children now aged 14 and 15 will be given the first the chance to exercise their democratic rights in 2021 and at local government elections a year later.

Laura McAllister, who chaired the Assembly’s expert panel on electoral reform, said its recommendation on lowering the voting age had a condition to ensure that young people were supported to exercise their right to vote, and that any reduction in the minimum voting age should be accompanied by non-partisan political and citizenship education.

“We recommended that such education should be part of a broader range of actions taken by the Assembly, the Welsh Government and others to increase youth engagement and political participation.”

The role the new Curriculum for Wales will play in the teaching of politics and citizenship is potentially far-reaching with the Government saying its intention is to “develop a generation of politically engaged and informed young people who are ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world”.

According to the Welsh Government, the Humanities Area of Learning and Experience of the new curriculum will give learners “an understanding of historical, geographical, political, economic and societal issues” and provide students greater opportunities to engage in discussions about ethics and beliefs.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams told BBC Wales: “We want to see all our young people develop as ethical, informed citizens who understand and exercise their human and democratic responsibilities and rights.

“We are committed to enabling 16 and 17 year olds to have a stronger stake in the future of their communities and believe that the foundation of a lifelong relationship with democracy is the right to vote.”

“We believe this should happen when young people are in a stable environment, surrounded by people who will support them, and where they may access information and education that can help them to make informed decisions.”

While students will have to wait for the new curriculum to be rolled out from 2022, the minster added that steps to provide political and citizenship education would begin sooner.

“Providing young people with the information they need to make an informed decision is important and we are fully committed to ensuring educational resources are available to schools by July 2020.”

As the Welsh Government outlined the additional responsibilities for schools, Wales’ largest teachers’ union has threatened strike action over pay, pupil behaviour and excessive workloads. The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers Cymru (NASUWT Cymru) has lodged a dispute with the Government after a union survey of 1000 teachers revealed 85% expressed their top concern as workload, with curriculum change cited as one area that will have the most impact. The union has requested a meeting with the Education Minister ahead of a possible ballot of its members.

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