David Bailey, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and International Studies (POLSIS) was recently invited by sixth form Politics teacher, Douglas Pleasant, to speak to his A-level pupils at St Angela’s Ursuline School in Forest Gate, London.
The A-level Politics provision of the school has recently expanded, with over 50 pupils now studying the subject, and with students going on to study subjects, including Politics, at universities across the country.
The students were told about the Politics and International Studies programmes that are currently taught in the University of Birmingham, as well as being introduced to some of the experiences of recent graduates of the programme and the opportunities that a degree in Politics and International Studies can provide. This included anecdotes of students who have gone on to work in Parliament, journalism, the civil service, and others who have gone on to do further postgraduate research.
In addition to hearing about the types of student experience to be gained by those studying Politics at the University of Birmingham, Dr Bailey also provided an overview of some of the themes of his current research and how it was relevant to aspects of the students’ A-level Politics classes. The A-level students are currently focusing on the state of democracy, and especially the role of pressure groups and protest movements in public policymaking.
Dr Bailey provided an overview on current debates within political science, including on the so-called ‘age of austerity’ and the way this has arguably resulted in democracy becoming less responsive to public opinion, alongside a resulting rise of populism as a challenge to liberal democracy, and a concomitant rise of protest movements by those seeking to oppose austerity. Some of these themes were illustrated through reference to the live archive of British protest events that Dr Bailey is compiling, and which can be accessed here.
Some of the key trends in British protest were also illustrated by discussing some of the unusual protest events that we have witnessed during the last month, April 2018, including the recent quasi-strike announced by barristers in opposition to reforms to the Legal Aid scheme, the cleaners’ protests against low pay by employer Ernst and Young (EY) that were staged in the Tate Modern, and the human chains that were performed by the group, Guiding a New Generation, to protest lack of action by the government to the recent rise if stabbings in London.
The A-level pupils seemed pleased to hear about opportunities at the University of Birmingham. They noticed, however, that many of the stories of graduate experiences were focused on ethnically white students. St Angela’s is a Roman Catholic School in the London Borough of Newham and it reflects the Catholic population of the borough, which has a large Afro-Caribbean, African, and Filipino grouping. 90% of the school population are from ethnic minorities. The students were therefore interested in the ethnic make-up of the University – both staff and students – which is pertinent given that there is a clear need to improve ethnic diversity within the University of Birmingham. Indeed, the department is keen to improve the ethnic mix among its student bodies and welcomes applicants from all backgrounds. The University's Guild of Students also has a Black and Ethnic Minority Association which represents BME students on welfare, social and political needs, and campaigns on their behalf towards these needs, often alongside relevant student societies and local organisations.
With an A-Level Politics cohort of over 50 students, St Angela’s Ursuline School provides a good opportunity for POLSIS to build links with a secondary school where Politics is a popular subject. Hopefully this will be the start, therefore, of an ongoing good relationship.