One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors
The essential purpose of politics is to teach political literacy. This is essential to prepare young people for their participation in their world beyond the classroom. For example, the first ‘fundamental British value’ is ‘democracy’. However this is a word oft-used either without qualification or explanation. Although centres often encompass aspects of Politics within the curriculum more broadly (e.g as part of their SMSC/PSHE provision) or elsewhere within subjects such as Life Skills, there are inherent aspects of this which can make for unsatisfactory implementation; inconsistency of approach, content without context, and delivery by non-subject specialists. Offering Citizenship as a discreet GCSE subject allows students to truly specialise in the political and legal framework by which we are governed, to gain essential awareness of the world around them alongside the knowledge of how to influence it for the better. Whether it be issues of social justice, environmentalism or disagreements about the merits of various high profile personalities within current affairs, this has never been a more interesting and important time to be aware of politics. Furthermore students at centres like ours which offer Politics as a discreet KS5 subject are therefore at an advantage not only in being able to access the subject itself but to take advantages of any extra-curricular activities which may flow from having subject specialists on staff.
It is interesting to note that one of the oft-made criticisms of those in Politics, particularly those around the Cabinet table, is that their educational background is disproportionately privileged and therefore unrepresentative of the population at large. However, one reason rarely noted is the fact that subjects such as politics and economics, essential if one wants to ‘run the country’ for a career, are increasingly scarce in the state sector with too many 6th forms opting instead for subjects such as Media Studies or Sociology. It is therefore to our students’ great advantage that they are given the opportunity to study Citizenship GCSE and Politics (and Economics) A Level, of which form two thirds of the most prestigious humanities qualification at Oxbridge and Russell Group universities; PPE.
Though the department offers both qualifications, it is by no means essential that applicants for A Level Politics have studied GCSE Citizenship, although they provide a natural subject progression for those who wish to do so.
The department’s three main aims are:
- That the curriculum content should provide students with as broader knowledge base as possible, encompassing political philosophy and the ability to contextualise current affairs within a rigorous framework of academic political science
- To ensure that in so doing, the student develops wider professional & transferable skills of written analysis, verbal dexterity and awareness; enabling them to become not only a fully functioning member of society but an asset to it.
- To provide a basis for a whole-school approach to deepening political literacy
That the curriculum content should provide students with as broader knowledge base as possible.
GCSE Citizenship (OCR)
Students will study the following
- Democracy, voting & elections
- National, local and devolved government
- The constitution
- Alternative political systems beyond the UK such as theocracies & dictatorships
- The UK’s relationship with the wider world
- Making a difference-taking citizenship action-how to get involved
- The law
- The legal system
- The economy
- The role of the media and a free press
- Identities & diversity in the UK
- Rights & responsibilities
A Level Politics (Edexcel)
All students study aspects of the UK Political system in paper 1, with a detailed working of the workings of UK Government making up paper 2. These topics are accompanied by political philosophy where students study 4 political ideologies, including Liberalism, Conservatism & and Socialism. Centres have autonomy in two key areas. Those areas and the choices we made are outlined as follows:
- Centres are allowed to choose the 4th ideology out of an option of 5. We elected to study Anarchism as our fourth ideology. The reason for this is that Anarchism remains, arguably, the ideology which is the furthest removed from any political system thus practiced. It remains a theoretical utopia and therefore stands as a significant contrast beyond both the core ideologies but also the other options all of which can be seen to greater or lesser degrees in societies (and our syllabus) today. This requires a significant leap in imagination and understanding from students, which we felt would be appropriately challenging to our students.
- For year two of the A Level, centres are given the option of either studying the American political system, or Global Politics. Despite the fact that current trends indicate the American option to be the most popular, our centre opted for Global Politics. We felt that recent trends towards globalisation make a study of Global Politics more relevant. We consider it more important for students to be aware of global institutions such as the UN, EU, NATO, the IMF, the G7, WTO etc rather than acquiring a deep but comparatively narrow understanding of just one part of the world.
To ensure the student develops wider professional & transferable skills of written analysis, verbal dexterity and awareness. Assessment in both GCSE Citizenship and A Level Politics is wholly via written answers. These are a combination of long-form writing, short-form writing and source analysis. The key skill is one of ‘argument’ whether this be in long or short form and such skills are transferable between disciplines and in employment in the future. Students are required to compose lengthy essay based arguments, weighing up both sides of the argument before reaching an evaluative judgement. By the same token, some questions require shorter, more succinct responses. Our centre offers rigorous and regular assessments beyond the national norm. All GCSE students sit two full mock papers through their course and similar with A Level. The department then offers compulsory intervention sessions in Year 11 & 13 for those deemed to need extra support.
All lessons involve discussion of key facts and many lessons are given over to formal debating. Students are also encouraged to research independently and present findings to peers. Note taking from the text book is an art in itself and students are encouraged to find ways to condense blocks of texts into meaningful phrases of their own in order to process understanding. It should be noted that those who fail to master this skill are more likely to struggle with note-taking at A KLevel and then at university.
To provide a basis for a whole-school approach to deepening political literacy
Given the high profile nature of politics over the last decade the department has been pro-active in taking the lead in being, both a source of information but also an outlet for students to discuss and debate. In relation to the former, the department (often with KS5 Politics students taking the lead) has provided whole-school tutorials, delivered assemblies, as well as offering mock elections and referendums. We consider deepening students’ ability to master skills of oracy to be key in self-expression therefore the department very much takes the lead in providing outlets for students to practice this. The department runs an inter-house debating competition as well as debating opportunities either nationally (with Debating Matters) or with other, local schools which this department initiated. We also offer a weekly Politics club for KS3 & KS4 students. The centre offers various trips such as an annual trip to the Houses of Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in the past. We have also been very successful in obtaining visits by local and national politicians. In the last 18 months the department has hosted visits from Conservative Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, former leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Vince Cable, Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the Bishop of Rochester, historian Marc Morris, our local MP Kelly Tolhurst as well as a host of local councillors. In addition the use of Zoom has opened up significant opportunities with politicians such as Lord Michael Heseltine, Edwina Currie, Jon Finucane of Sinn Fein and Lord Attlee giving up their time to provide lectures direct to Math school students as well as taking part in Q & A sessions. All of the above is implemented by well-qualified subject specialists, all members of the department are qualified to Masters level and the Head of Department has a PhD in the subject.
Evaluating impact can be measured via participation, outcome and destination;
The subjects continues to be one of the most popular at the school. We usually take between 20-30 students per year for the A Level. About a 3rd of each cohort is usually made up of external candidates, mostly girls. This would be in line with a national trend which indicates that Politics is one of the top 10 combinations of subjects for girls. We have a successful retention rate (students rarely opt to drop the subject once they have begun their programme of study). The extra-curricular activities are very popular, there is never any shortage of students wishing to take part in the debating activities, become subject prefects and Politics club usually has over 30 regular attendees.
We are in the top 25% nationally in terms of results, achieving an ALPS 3 in the 2019 results. There is no difference in outcome and achievement between SEN and disadvantaged students and their peers, or between genders. There is clear progression in the quality of students’ work produced. Many students initially struggle with the skill of essay writing in particular. However the regular use of both formative and summative assessment by staff across the department; in line with the school’s rigorous self-review and marking policies ensure that students make rapid and significant progress once they begin. Students are clearly more confident in the expression of written and verbal ideas, academically able and politically literate at the end of the two years with us. The Department ensures it is fully briefed on any special educational needs of our students. All staff are made aware at the start of the academic year of students who require further support and this is implemented and updated where necessary throughout the year. This can take, for example, the form of ensuring understanding on a one-to-one basis, a particular place in a seating plan or simply awareness of any issues which may arise. This is designed to ensure all students meet their full potential and no one is disadvantaged.
Just under a quarter of the A Level cohort went on to do Politics related courses at university last year and this is the usual pattern. Many of our students go on to Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. The department clearly fosters and embeds an interest in Politics that many of our students wish to carry forward.