The Politics Project – written evidence (DAD0066)
Response to Q13/Q14.
- Digital Surgeries was created by The Politics Project to provide new ways for young people and politicians to engage more frequently and equitably. In our pilot programme we found that only 7% of young people we worked with were leaving school having engaged with a politician. This limited engagement contributes to young people having low levels of trust in politicians and little understanding of the political process. The programme aims to significantly increase the quantity and quality of interactions between young people and politicians, helping young people contribute to policy-making and develop the knowledge and skills that will support future democratic engagement.
- The programme is growing rapidly, and currently involves over 70 schools across the country with students aged 10-18 years old and over 120 politicians from across political parties.
- The key feature of the programme are “digital surgeries” in which a class of around 20/30 students take part in a video call with a politician that represents them at a local, regional, national or European level. These interactions normally last around 45 minutes and are fully integrated into classroom teaching.
- Prior to the surgery, students complete three hours of workshops in their schools to ensure they have the knowledge, skills and confidence to get the most out of each conversation. The programme is delivered by teachers that are trained by The Politics Project.
- After teachers have completed their training they are able to deliver the programme largely independently, which makes the model highly scalable. In many schools the programme is now delivered to all students during their time at school, preventing political engagement being the preserve of students who study politics or engage in the school council.
The Impact of Digital
- Logistical advantages: The programme’s digital nature makes it far easier for politicians and schools to engage by removing travel and the avoiding the associated costs and time. Crucially, it enables MPs with constituencies far from Westminster to engage with their schools Monday – Thursday and those in rural communities to engage across large geographical areas.
- Many schools find the digital nature of the programme more practical as it avoids the need for school trips and visits. Several teachers have spoken about the disruption MPs visits can cause to schools where they feel the need to “roll out the red carpet”.
- Improved Engagements: Our feedback from students shows that digital engagements are often preferred by students who are less confident and have no previous experience of engaging with politicians, with one student saying that “everyone is honest, no one is nervous and it is less awkward.”
- Young people can interact with politicians in a familiar classroom environment supported by their teachers. In our post-programme evaluation surveys, 84% of young people described using a video call to communicate as “good” or “excellent” as did 95% of politicians.
- Interactions are also more focused on the students than school visits. While school visits can sometimes include only short interactions with students in school assemblies and can be dominated by conversations with senior teachers, Digital Surgeries involve direct, in-depth discussions between young people and their politicians.
Better policy and representation
- 1 in 3 surgeries led to a follow-up action from a politician, demonstrating that these meaningful interactions can impact policy-making and communities. Some of these include:
- Stephanie Peacock MP raised her young constituents’ concerns over the European copyright directive in the House of Commons during oral questions to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
- Kate Green MP raised concerns expressed by students at Lostock College over the impact of the Shamima Begum case on Muslims in the local area to Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP during a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing.
- Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, helped to facilitate legal work experience for students who expressed frustration with the difficulties of accessing the legal profession without parental contacts.
- Hove Park High School held a thematic Digital Surgeries with Lord Clement-Jones to share their thoughts on artificial intelligence and discuss his work chairing the AI House of Lords Select Committee.
- Trust and relationships: The programme is effective at building political trust and relationships. Prior to their surgery only 42% of young people felt they could trust the politician they would be talking to. This rose to 73% after the surgery. Moreover, the proportion of young people that “strongly agreed” they could trust the politician rose from 6% prior to starting the programme to 30% afterwards.
- 95% of the politicians that took part felt that Digital Surgeries were good at building relationships, with 75% finding them “very good”.
- Political knowledge and oracy: The programme increases political knowledge and oracy. Feedback shows that 94% of young people felt that the programme increased their understanding of the UK political system (66% “significantly” or “quite a lot”).
- 87% of students said they felt they improved their speaking and listening skills as a result of the programme. 100% of teachers feel the programme improves oracy, with 84% thinking it does so “quite a lot” or “significantly”.
- Politician engagement: Politicians enjoy engaging digitally with 95% saying they would recommend the programme to a colleague. After their initial surgeries most have requested to do more and we are working with many politicians to engage more schools in their local area. After often being initially sceptical about using a digital platform, many came to enjoy engaging through video call and found it an effective tool to build relationships. –
- “This was an extremely efficient way to fit a meeting into a very busy day - without conducting the meeting digitally it would have taken at least half a day (travel time, meet and greet, meeting etc) whereas using this method took less than an hour.”