IPPR - Teach democracy classes in all schools and give votes at 16 to boost young people’s faith in politics, report urges

22 Sep 2023 01:12 PM

Young people’s sense of disengagement and disempowerment in society should be reversed by stepping up civic education in schools and reducing the voting age to 16 for all elections in England, according to a new report by IPPR which calls for four big 'learning gaps’ in English schools to be addressed.

Young people’s sense of disengagement and disempowerment in society should be reversed by stepping up civic education in schools and reducing the voting age to 16 for all elections in England, according to a new report by IPPR which calls for four big 'learning gaps’ in English schools to be addressed. 

While young people are deeply concerned about social challenges such as climate change, their faith in democratic politics is lower than any other age group and they are also more likely than others to be sympathetic towards authoritarian rule. 

This is part of a vicious circle in which young people aged 18-24 are less likely to vote than their older peers, resulting in politicians skewing policies towards the interest of older voters. This in turn leaves young people feeling further disenfranchised, the report says. 

The report also calls for wider changes to the school system – which it argues is currently “out of kilter”, with too much focus on academic attainment - to ensure all young people can unlock their potential, get on in work and participate fully in society. These include reforms to examinations, teacher training, Ofsted and support for young people struggling with mental ill-health. 

New polling commissioned by IPPR offers an insight into the lack of civic education – teaching about politics and citizenship - in England’s schools, and the significant appetite to end this: 

The report points out that after the voting age in Scotland was lowered for the referendum in 2014, and later for all local and Scottish government elections, there was a sustained higher turnout among young people who first voted aged under 18, according to a recent study. 

Under IPPR’s proposal, the minimum voting age for the UK parliament would simultaneously be lowered to 16 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Offering younger people the vote and stepping up civic education must go hand in hand with further reforms to ensure schools better equip young people for life, not just for exams, IPPR says. The report also identifies gaps in foundational literacy, numeracy and oracy skills; in developing skills such as team working and problem solving, and character traits such as creativity and people skills; and in tackling growing mental ill-health.  

To help address these, IPPR is calling on the government to introduce a national entitlement to an on-site school counsellor and nurse as well as providing pre- and post-school clubs, such as sports, arts and debating. This follows new polling which found that in England: 

On other key areas the report also calls on government to: 

The entire package of reforms proposed by IPPR would cost an estimated £5 billion a year. 

Harry Quilter-Pinner, director of research and engagement at IPPR and lead author of the report, said: 

“Schools take a too narrow focus on what success looks like for young people. Schools should absolutely focus on ensuring all young people can do maths and English – and too many young people leave school without these skills. But they should also care about the wider elements becoming a healthy happy adult invested in society.  

“Good physical and mental health as well as a true stake in your community is just as important. This is why we are calling for younger people to be given a say in our democracy as well as investing in school nurses and counsellors.” 

Efua Poku-Amanfo, IPPR research fellow and a co-author of the report, said:  

“Many young people are shut out of engaging with our political system and society, often due to not being exposed to civic education to recognise their voice is valued in democracy. Stepping up civic education in schools and combining this with giving young people the right to vote at 16 is a way to tackle both problems together. 

“Empowering young people to become more engaged is good for their own development, their wellbeing and their own lives as they prepare to enter the wider world – it's also good for their communities, for society more broadly, and for the very foundations of our democracy.” 

Jonathan Slater, former permanent secretary of the department for education, said:

"The gap in exam results between the children of wealthier and poorer parents and carers has always been far too wide, and is starting to get worse again. Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities are very often not able to get the support they need from over-stretched professionals. The mental health crisis faced by so many young people is deeply worrying. And our teachers are quitting at record rates.

"So this is a vital time to be considering what is needed to help schools, and the public services they work in partnership with, to tackle these huge challenges. This report is an important contribution to the schools’ debate and politicians of all colours would do well to listen to and consider its recommendations."

Becky Bainbridge, CEO of youth-informed charity RECLAIM, said: 

“Working-class young people are not content with having decisions made about them, without them. At RECLAIM we know from experience that when we provide young people with the space, tools and confidence to engage in decisions about their education, their community and their wellbeing, they possess solutions for the challenges we are collectively facing. 

“We have seen a 73 per cent cut in youth services since 2010. Working-class young people aren’t disengaged from civic activity, they have been locked out of it. With fewer and fewer spaces to engage in participatory democracy, we must ensure those skills become embedded in the school system - not just for prestigious schools, but for every state school in the country.” 

Harry Quilter-Pinner and Efua Poku-Amanfo, two of the report’s authors, are available for interview  

Case studies are available of young people to discuss votes at 16 



  1. The IPPR paper, Out of kilter: How to rebalance our school system to work for people, economy and society, by Harry Quilter-Pinner, Efua Poku-Amanfo, Loic Menzies and Jamie O’Halloran, is available for download at: http://www.ippr.org/research/publications/out-of-kilter  

  2. Citizenship education became part of the national curriculum in 2002, but the subject has been neglected by many schools. Our polling suggests that many schools are not providing the teaching that should be part of a citizenship offer. 

  3. The package would cost an estimated total of £5.2 billion extra per year to implement in England, including an extended school day with pre- and postschool activity (£200 million and £3.9 billion respectively); an on-site counsellor for every 300 pupils (£830 million); and an on-site nurse for every 600 pupils (£270 million). If this was new funding there would be additional costs for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through the Barnett formula. 

  4. IPPR commissioned YouGov to survey 1,003 teachers across the UK. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Fieldwork was undertaken between August 18–29, 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK teachers. Polling data from this survey in the press release refers only to teachers working in England, unless stated otherwise. The total sample of teachers from England was 887. 

  5. IPPR commissioned YouGov to survey 1,777 adults in England. Fieldwork was undertaken on August 21-22, 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults (aged 18+) in England. 

  6. RECLAIM is a youth-informed equalities organisation based in Greater Manchester. it is a small but bold charity, using its experience and platform to support and amplify the voices of working-class young people. RECLAIM’s long-term goal is to create a Britain where those from working-class backgrounds are proud of – and not held back by – their roots. www.reclaim.org.uk 

  7. IPPR (the Institute for Public Policy Research) is an independent charity working towards a fairer, greener, and more prosperous society. We are researchers, communicators, and policy experts creating tangible progressive change, and turning bold ideas into common sense realities. Working across the UK, IPPR, IPPR North, and IPPR Scotland are deeply connected to the people of our nations and regions, and the issues our communities face. We have helped shape national conversations and progressive policy change for more than 30 years. From making the early case for the minimum wage and tackling regional inequality, to proposing a windfall tax on energy companies, IPPR’s research and policy work has put forward practical solutions for the crises facing society. www.ippr.org