Politics? Teenagers don’t know and don’t care

Author: By Richard Garner, Education Editor

Today’s schoolchildren care little about politics and know even less about the subject, according to a poll out today.

Only one in four could identify Labour as the party of government, a survey of 14- to 16-year-olds for Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, revealed. And 4 per cent thought the Conservatives were in power, while 2 per cent thought the Liberal Democrats were the government of the day. Two-thirds admitted they had no idea.

Nearly half said they did not think it was important to know what any of today’s political parties stand for. The poll comes two years after lessons in citizenship, designed to teach schoolchildren about their rights and responsibilities in British society, became compulsory.

It foreshadows a speech by David Bell, the chief schools inspector and head of Ofsted, tomorrow in which he will highlight the urgent need to teach teenagers to become responsible citizens. He will call for more schools to set up their own councils to give pupils a say in the running of the institution.

Pollsters ICM surveyed 110 pupils and 100 teachers on national identity and political awareness. Asked which of six symbols they identified with Britain, 57 per cent chose the Union flag and 34 per cent the Queen. In third place was a Manchester United shirt with 3 per cent – although nobody selected a picture of Posh and Becks from the six images.

Fish and chips was the dish 57 per cent thought most captured British culinary delights. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding came second – although it was far more popular with teachers (45 per cent) than pupils (31 per cent). Curry was selected as a traditional British dish by 1 per cent.

It was on politics, though, that the pupils displayed their lack of knowledge. Only 16 per cent identified the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, from a photograph, and 10 per cent were able to identify the Liberal Democrats’ Charles Kennedy. However, 95 per centidentified Tony Blair as Prime Minister.

They were asked about the make-up of the Parliament – and to say which party was in government, which was the second-largest party and which had come third. “Remarkably only one in four know this,” said the report.

The introduction of compulsory lessons in citizenship also appeared to have passed them by – 13 per cent did not know what they were.

In their verdict on the results, the pollsters said: “If the object of ‘citizenship’ classes is to instil some kind of civic understanding or responsibility about being British or at least being resident in Britain, pupils appear to have missed the point.”

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