Education is key to ensuring that newly enfranchised voters understand the system they can now have a voice in. That 16 and 17 year olds in Wales can now vote in Senedd elections offers us a chance to create a much more informed and confident electorate than has gone before.
One of the major challenges we have in Wales is how to tackle the democratic deficit. We know three things; that turnout is low in Wales-only elections, that there is a poor provision of local/Welsh media and that understanding of devolution in Wales is very limited across all ages.
These are major issues, with very few easy answers. The next Welsh Government will have only a limited ability to create a stronger Welsh media, for example. So, we have to think how governments can compensate for these limitations.
Political education in schools is a good, and relatively easy, place to start.
In the last two years we have been working with young people to co-produce recommendations to improve political education in schools. ERS Cymru’s Our Voices Heard report details the findings, developed through conversations with hundreds of young people.
Through the course of our work across Wales, young people consistently told us they weren’t receiving sufficient political education, but that they very much wanted to learn about the way Wales worked. The recommendations from the project were all proposed and voted on by the young people themselves.
The principal recommendation from the young people was that statutory political education should be introduced into the curriculum. Given the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds we believe this is even more important.
While there are currently plans for a new curriculum in Wales which includes aims to have learners become ‘ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world’, and a progression step around participating in decision making, we need statutory political education implemented as soon as possible with much more explicit expectations of schools across Wales.
Parties should also consider how this could be extended to post-16 education, given the average age people will vote for the first time will be around 18. This could be delivered in further education settings and through youth workers.
Manifesto ask 4: A commitment to statutory political education within schools to tackle the democratic deficit, and ensure young people leave school with much more knowledge and confidence in the political system than previous generations of school-leavers.
Read the full report