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Adam McGee is a Final Year BA History student and Project Leader for the Student-Led Project, Politeach. He is also a member of the Volunteering Service’s Think Tank, who make sure students have an active voice in how the service is run.

For the last two academic years, Politeach members have been actively seeking to improve political education in schools, through non-partisan workshops.

What you do with Politeach?  How long you have been doing it for, and how often you do for it?

I am one of the project leaders of Politeach; we set the project up at the beginning of the 2016/2017 academic year, and I joined a few weeks after the project was set up, and helped to steer it into what is now.

What we do is go into primary schools and teach the basics of British politics to Year 6 students across London. The initial idea was something very different, and it took almost 9 months to finesse it into what is now. We had to create the 2-hour workshop that we take into the schools and recruit a substantial volunteer pool. We only went into two schools last year but this year we really hit the ground running and managed to recruit a number of new volunteers. Starting from January through to term two, we have been at a different school each week.

What inspired you to get involved with Politeach, do you think it is important that young people know how democracy works?

I think it is a slight on our education system that people are not taught about how the political system of the country in which they live works. I feel that democracy requires informed citizens in order to function. I think there are a number of people out there ranging from 17/18 year olds, just about to vote for the first time, to people who are middle aged who might not be able to name what the difference is between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, or comment on differences between the European Council and the European Court of Justice.

I think these are important questions; a number of people do not understand how our voting system works. I think it is fundamentally important to have that basic level of political education. The reason we go into primary schools to teach and why we teach from a very young age is so when the kids grow up and become teenagers, they will already have some kind of base level of knowledge. Hopefully when they watch the news on TV or listen to the radio later in life, they can understand that and eventually begin to comprehend and form their own opinion.

Do you get a wide range of political diversity on the project, and how do you manage that as a project leader?

All of our volunteers receive training on how to be politically neutral, and that is something that we reiterate to them across the programme of sessions. Some volunteers are probably on one side of the spectrum, and some on the other. We have designed the workshop in such a way that distinct political partisanship is hopefully written out. We make the issues debated very local to the ten or eleven year old  pupils, so it’s things like all children should have free iPads and The school canteen should only serve fruit and vegetables or things like Should the head teacher should be elected. It is nothing to do with wider political issues like grand taxation and the EU, and that way we write out political bias. We do make it very clear to volunteers that they should remain neutral.

What is the general reception from the pupils and teachers towards Politeach? Are they interested?

It’s been very positive. The school we were at last when we turned up and said: “We’re going to talk to you today about politics”, and about half the class groaned and went “Ugh, politics is so boring!” So, we definitely face an uphill battle! In our workshop, the pupils create political parties, elect leaders, come up with a manifesto, have an election, and then debate that manifesto. By the end of the session, they were saying “Oh no we don’t want to stop, we don’t want to go home – politics is really fun!”. They told us that politics is really fun because we’re talking about things that are meaningful, things that are important to them. I think British politics does not do itself any favours in the way that it is presented, because people think it is out-of-date, and it talks about things that aren’t relevant to them. However, it debates things that are of vital importance to every single person in the country.

How have you found being a leader of a project as opposed to being a general volunteer, at an organisation? Have you found that you enjoy that more, and you enjoy the development opportunities from that?

Definitely yes! I’ve really enjoyed being empowered to drive a project forwards and to put your own mark on it. There’s almost the sense that what you want to happen, happens, and what you say goes. I think with something like this, something I’m quite clearly passionate about, that it’s exciting and quite rewarding to be able to say that this is something I’ve done, something I’ve pushed forward, something that wasn’t at UCL before but now is. So yeah - I definitely, definitely have enjoyed it. I think it’s also great for developing those transferable skills that you might not pick up with academic study.

What kind of challenges did you face when you started volunteering? How do you feel about it now?

When we started the project, it took an awful long time to work out how to teach something like this to young children. That was one of the biggest challenges - we had to consult a lot of academics and experts. Secondly, it was difficult at the time that we were doing it - which was just after exams in the summer - it was very difficult to recruit volunteers in enough time for that, because we were recruiting around exam time, so that was very difficult. In addition, just the fact that it was a brand new project, we didn’t know entirely what we wanted to achieve. So I think perhaps if we’ve had better, or more clearly defined aims, it would have perhaps been an easier path.

Measuring impact can be difficult for us, because we’ll probably never see these pupils again because they’ll leave primary school and move on, so it’s difficult to measure the impact in that way - but from the teacher’s feedback it’s all been overwhelmingly positive!

What have you generally found the most rewarding aspect to this? Is it the fact that you’re politically informing the next generation, because young people are becoming more politically aware - is that giving you a sense of satisfaction?

Yeah, I think it does - The other day I was on the Tube home and I started thinking it’s strange to think that in 5, 6, 7 years, these kids will be turning 18 and be able to vote, and hopefully they’ll be able to remember the stuff that they’ve learned from us, about how everything functions and why it’s important to engage in democracy. I’ve also just enjoyed the idea that we can run a charity project that has tangible impacts around London, but you’re still working with fellow students – it’s quite a nice community feel.

What would you recommend most about being a Student-Led Project Leader?

The things I’ve already talked about, really - learning new skills and things! Yeah, I think [you should go for it] if you have a real passion for a subject, whether that be politics, whether that be engineering, whether that be helping homeless people, or disabled people, I think it’s a really exciting way to kind of formulate something that’s your own, or is a group of yours, rather than just joining a charity – which is equally worthwhile, but you don’t have such a driving force in the nature of how that organisation works.

If Adam’s experiences with Politeach has inspired you to get involved, check out our other Student Led Projects Here!  Or if something else strikes your fancy, please visit our online directory to view all the current roles we have on offer with our 400+ London-based partners!