Hands-on policymaking experience for local school students

Thursday, 8 June 2017

This week, a group of over fifty Year 9 students from Cheney School in Headington took part in an exciting day of policymaking exercises at the Blavatnik School of Government. The Policy Slam, led by MPP student Cameron Winnett with support from across his cohort, was designed to introduce students to the challenges involved in policymaking and leadership. The Slam was organised by the MPP students and funded by their class budget, with DPhil students and faculty also participating. The students were keen to reach out to the community and give the Cheney School students an insight into life at the Blavatnik School.

The varied day of problem-solving centred on the question, “What should we do when people disagree?” The workshops encouraged the Year 9s to engage with difficult social issues from within their own communities and to work towards a solution even when there are no easy answers. Three case studies were created by the Blavatnik School students after consulting the Year 9s:

Diversity & Inclusion: Should a ‘Rainbow Day’ LGBT inclusion event go ahead, despite controversy in a London school community? 

Democracy & Voting: Should voting in the UK be compulsory, in order to compel citizens to engage in their democracy?

Health & Personal Responsibility: Should the Department of Health introduce taxes on sugar and fat, and reduce coverage for certain health conditions, in order to address the social costs of obesity?

The Year 9s were given the scenario that they were advising a Government Minister on one of these controversial topics. With guidance, they worked in small teams to examine the different values and viewpoints that people hold. Additionally, more than twenty other Blavatnik School students provided input as ‘consultants’. Each consultant presented a particular viewpoint, to challenge the students’ thinking. The Year 9s then prepared a balanced presentation for the relevant ‘Minister’, in which they explained the pros and cons of the possible solutions. The presentations were given in front of an audience of their peers, and staff and students from the Blavatnik School, one of whom took on the role of the ‘Minister’.

The Slam ended with a reflective exercise, in which both Cheney and Blavatnik School students considered what they had learnt throughout the day. The Year 9s said that they had become more comfortable in debating different viewpoints in a respectful way, and even in changing their own minds. "I changed my views on mandatory voting twice”, one student commented. Another team wrote that policymaking “is hard and gives you a lot of power. It makes you more open-minded”.

The Blavatnik School students also benefited from the Slam. For some, it was their first experience of teaching, and it forced them to get back to basics, “describing policy and policymaking from first principles”, as one student expressed it.

The Policy Slam was planned in collaboration with Cheney School teachers David Gimson and Lorna Robinson. The connection with David and Lorna was made with the support of the Oxford for Oxford project, part of the University’s Widening Access and Participation programme. The day was a great success and we hope to host more community outreach events like this in future.