“A city-wide sequenced programme of citizenship and civic action for secondary schools”

If Cambridge’s primary schools are starting to look at a co-ordinated and sequenced local history curriculum throughout the children’s time there, does this create an opportunity for secondary schools to build on this and apply some of the stories and themes to active citizenship?

I’ve had a couple of enquiries coming through about my local history research – Lost Cambridge, and how it can apply to the history curriculum at primary schools, and also as a source base for a couple of Cambridge University course modules. Which is striking when you consider one cohort are in their very early years, while the other have reached the pinnacle of full time education. Which for me shows how relevant and flexible local history can be, as well as the impact of the people that made local history in what would have been local politics for them.

We saw another example of local politics becoming local history today, with the rejection of two massive and controversial planning applications today at Cambridge City Council’s planning committee. One of them was the Save the Flying Pig Pub case, which had thousands upon thousands of consultation responses to the plan, and hundreds of objections when it finally came to committee today.

“Committee says *No!*

Even though officers had recommended approval subject to a series of planning conditions, councillors were unanimous in their rejection, giving point-by-point reasons all referenced to the 2018 Cambridge local plan. If you want to build in Cambridge, your plans must meet the criteria and conditions set out in that plan. Otherwise councillors on the planning committee can refuse planning consent on the grounds that the development is incompatible with the local plan, this one lasting to 2030.

In the 2014 Cambridge City Council elections, 89 people in Cambridge voted for A city-wide sequenced programme of citizenship and civic action

It was in theme 2 of Puffles’ manifesto for Cambridge, when the little cuddly dragon smashed UKIP out of Coleridge. (That year they said they’d stand in every ward in Cambridge, so I stood Puffles against them. They didn’t stand, dragon won by default).

As a result, I always keep an eye on the city council election results to see which candidates polled *fewer* votes than Puffles. And some of them have! Also, you don’t need to win elections to have your proposals implemented.

…Alternatively you could inspire someone in the council to commission something – in this case the Coleridge Rec dragon slide, installed a year later. Now…anyone willing to stand for election dressed as a large concert hall?

Systematically engaging schools, colleges, and universities in local government

Some of you may have noticed that at election time, some of the debates at council meetings can get intense. Here’s a write up by Ben Hatton on the latest exchange between Mr Palmer of the Conservatives and Cllr van de Ven of the Liberal Democrats. At the same meeting, Cllr Herbert and Mr Palmer also exchanged words – caught by Mr Elworthy of the Cambridgeshire Times.

Expect these exchanges to continue over the next few weeks.

What is often overlooked is how dense the meeting papers are – in this case nearly 600 pages. The meeting that same day of the Cambridge Planning Committee also ran into several hundred pages for the two controversial, and subsequently rejected planning applications. Can you imagine trying to get young people (or anyone for that matter) interested in scrutinising local democracy if the first thing they have to do is to get their head around hundreds of pages of technical papers?

My proposals back in 2014 included:

“A city-wide sequenced programme of citizenship and civic action as students progress through secondary school, designed on open principles with young people taking a key part at design stage.

“Annual ‘open space’ gatherings bringing together frontline youth workers, teachers, senior managers, young people, politicians and community activists to scope problems and solutions

Map the city on who is doing what for young people, and the facilities available. Work with young people on this and identifying what they see as the barriers to using those facilities too.”

The first paragraph effectively means for every child at every secondary school in Cambridge, they are offered the same opportunities to get involved in civic action & citizenship activities commensurable with their ages and maturity. At a very basic level it might involve:

  • Year 7 – visits by local councils and public service providers to introduce the existence of and concepts of local public institutions
  • Year 8 – issue-mapping workshops where they highlight concerns and ideas across their neighbourhoods
  • Year 9 – site visits to public service providers
  • Year 10 – extended projects
  • Year 11 – local question time debates with external panellists on specific themes decided by the students themselves

Again, the above isn’t meant to be prescriptive or comprehensive. It’s actually a suggestion that Cambridge’s larger institutions get together, organise and co-ordinate an offer to our city’s secondary schools so that when it comes to putting the whole thing together and delivering on it, all institutions are prepared and know what to expect – thus saving time and resources as no one is coming to it ‘cold’.

It’s particularly important that children who go into vocational career paths are included in this – not least as they are disproportionately more likely to stay local than their university-destined counterparts, mindful that this blogpost is Cambridge-specific. It was made all the more stark recently when someone who I went to school with but who didn’t go into higher education, has in recent times started getting involved in community action and local campaigning, having only recently learned from a local community magazine and conversations with other local people what elections were and why they are important.

“Greater Cambridge is failing its young people”

It was hard to avoid that conclusion after reading two in-depth consultancy reports on the future options of North East Cambridge. My generation of teenagers was one of the failed generations before it – my teenage years in Cambridge being in the 1990s, a time when public services were brutally run down to the extent that the health and safety threat compelled the public authorities to spend what limited funds they had on beginning new building programmes at primary school, secondary school and sixth form college. Even the Cambridge Communist Party’s manifesto of 1945 declared the buildings of my old primary school obsolete! There are some primary school buildings still in use in Cambridge that date back to the late 1800s. Our generation didn’t have anything other than a local councillor giving a short talk in year 11.

One of the reasons why their engagement and involvement matters now is because of the decisions being taken on the future of our city. They are the ones who are going to have to deal with our legacy.

Above – me with far less grey hair back in 2015 at a City Deal event with over 200 people at Cambridge RUFC in Newnham. One of the many differences between then and now is that the children of Cambridge have already self-organised over the environment. It’s up to the adults in the big local institutions to match them.

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