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Making sense of the UK EU Referendum and its outcome: Some advice from ACT

Post date: 
Thu, 30/06/2016 - 11:30

The referendum result has left a legacy of complex questions.  So, how can we help pupils in school to make sense of this, teachers teach about the issues and feel confident about being neutral in approaching such an emotive issue? ACT staff and Council have given this consideration and offer the following:

  • Don’t try to teach about the Referendum without some thought-carefully look at the emerging picture before choosing resources and approaches.
  • Try to focus on how a referendum works-how it is different from elections. Discuss why referendums are complex. They have their advantages but also disadvantages. Which topics might be good topics for referendum, which ones not so and why? Are there examples of nations that use lots of referendums (Switzerland) and what have they been about? Why do some nations use lots of referendums and not others?
  • It’s important that this is not seen as them versus us. In a democracy sometimes decisions may be seen as unpopular but we accept that as being the way democracy works.
  • Do ask what pupils heard about the referendum and its outcome. What facts do we know about the referendum? What myths have there been? Try to look at the whole picture-things probably won’t change overnight as a result of the referendum.  What have pupils heard, seen or read about the referendum result.  A next step may be to ascertain what pupils are worried about and what questions they have. For example is it a rise in xenophobia and racism in school and society? Is it economic challenges? Is it that communities seem split on the result? Is it that they fear not being able to travel or get work in the future compared to now?  Pupils can then move to analysing the issues, working out what to deal with head on and what to approach indirectly.  Make sure you choose resources wises. The BBC is reliable, updates its items frequently and is accessible.
  • Where there are issues of concern to the school and community, especially if this involves racism or xenophobic comment s towards pupils or staff or by some pupils towards other pupils, then ensure that the school follows its usual anti-racist procedures, Safeguarding and Prevent strategy. Ensure senior school staff looks at this is relation to SMSC and British Values. Log all incidents and take them very seriously.
  • Consider the timetable for leaving, how it happens, who is involved and how and when things might change. There is plenty to research on this. What political changes might follow?  How does the referendum result affect Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland? How may it affect the different political parties and leaders? Why has the PM has chosen to resign in the near future?  What about the different political parties and their views on EU membership-are these now changing from before the Referendum?
  • We are still part of Europe and in the EU currently. There are big problems to solve in Europe that are not just problems for EU nations-migration, fear of terrorism and extremism, the economies of many European countries and relations with Russia. For example, there is the continued migration crisis. How can Britain both inside the EU and in the future help deal with this? What have we been doing? What else can we do? What are other European nations doing?
  • High quality advice and guidance in respect of teaching more broadly about Europe can be found in the recent Topical Issues 2 Europe, the European Union and the UK on the ACT website
  • Teachers should remember the key to success is with the right pedagogical approaches. A great resource is the post 16 Citizenship booklet Agree to Disagree: Citizenship and controversial issues. This resource provides techniques for dealing with controversy, with a focus on building the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to use these techniques effectively. Teachers might also look at pages 11-16 of the ACT Prevent Duty and Controversial Issues: creating a curriculum response through Citizenship for techniques and approaches.
  • Use a distancing technique. For example, if the school leader announced a referendum on school uniform-to wear one or not-and the result was very, very close, what compromises and agreements would need to be reached by all parties to make this work after the result was announced? How would the school do this? Who would lead the discussions? How could all parties and views be accommodated or moderated?
  • Go back to the core curriculum principles of teaching about politics and democracy and apply pedagogies consistent with teaching topical, controversial and sensitive issues, especially research, debate, discussion, sharing and reflection.
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