School: Filey School, Filey, North Yorkshire
Council: Scarborough Borough Council
Students taking part: One class of Year 9s
What did you do with ‘I’m a Councillor’?
We were studying a novel about homelessness and this seemed ideal. The students wrote speeches about the issue of homelessness and had a debate in the school hall. We laid it out like the House of Commons. The councillors came into the school, watched the debate and gave their responses and answered questions. I also introduced the students to the website, they read the manifestos and wrote their own and compared the councillors’ manifestos to what they wanted. Later we watched televised debates from parliament and read a speech by Tony Blair and analysed them. Suddenly they could relate to these things and make sense of them.
How did the young people respond?
They absolutely loved it! They were intrigued from the beginning, by the name’s tie-in to the TV programme. Then once they got onto the website they loved getting to have their say and getting to make their own minds up. And when the councillors came into the school…It really made them feel special, these important councillors came to listen to them and talk to them! Filey always feels like the poor relation. The councillors coming here made them feel like we are important, that we are part of Scarborough.They still talk about it now, four months later. They’ll see something about a councillor they met, in the paper, and come into school to talk about it.
What would you say to another teacher who’s thinking about getting involved?
Absolutely definitely do it! You can get a great Scheme of Work going, I got so many assessment pieces that they need out of it, it can cover so much of the curriculum. And it really opened English up to the world outside of the classroom, made it relevant to wider society. I’d say for an English teacher it’s brilliant. But other subjects could use it too, history, say, there’s so much potential, it could be a whole school thing…
What do you think was the lasting message for your students?
That if they want something done, they have to speak up, and they have the communication skills to do that. It really made them see that the English skills they are learning, like expressing yourself or structuring an argument, have an impact on the wider world and what you can do. And their political awareness has gone right up.
HEAD OF HUMMANITIES
School: Poltair Community School
Council: Restormel Borough Council
Students taking part: Whole of Year 9 (230 students)
What did you do with ‘I’m a Councillor’?
We got the whole year doing it in PSHE. I cannibalised the Teachers’ Packs a bit, to customise the materials to fit in with my scheme of work, the level of my students and their interests. I introduced it in one lesson, and then during the event I took them online, they had live chats and also councillors came into school to see them. I think it really made a difference having the whole year group doing it – the buzz could grow, they talked about it in tutorial time and outside classes too.
What makes ‘I’m a Councillor’ different to other Citizenship resources available to teachers?
In the jargon the kids would use, it’s in-your-face. They absolutely loved it, it was something so different to what they normally do in school. They loved the online chats, actually getting to talk to councillors. Lots of them logged onto the site in their own time. They don’t usually do that with school stuff.
What would you say to other teachers who are thinking about doing it?
Definitely go ahead! Have a good read of the stuff in advance, have a play around on the website and see what it can do. That’ll help you make the most of it. And it’s fun! Definitely get councillors in to visit you, the students will love it.
Is there anything you’d do differently, if you were doing it again?
Yes, I think I would get the students to prepare more questions in advance for the live chats and the councillors coming in to visit. Get them to think about what they wanted to ask. And I’d do more work around the manifestos. There’s a lot you could do. You always think of more afterwards!
What’s been the outcome of doing it?
It involved students who wouldn’t normally have given politics a second glance. The kids really remember it and learnt a lot. I overheard two students talking and saying that students at a nearby school (who didn’t take part) were really missing out. Also, we’ve now got a first class relationship with the council.