Headteachers will receive guidance on how Scotland’s independence referendum should be handled impartially in the classroom, with today’s 15 and 16-year-old pupils likely to be key voters by the time of the poll in September 2014.
Education Scotland is in talks with the Electoral Commission over what advice to offer Scotland’s local authorities and headteachers on the issue, and it will be handed out this summer.
The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill, which gives 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote, has passed its first stage in the Holyrood Parliament.
Political analysts expect these young people to be a key demographic target for both sides of the independence debate as they are less likely to have decided on their intentions yet.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said both the “Yes” and “No” campaigns would be considering schools as “a new battleground”. They would therefore be expecting equal access and wanting to ensure teachers did not express their own views.
The Scottish Parent Teacher Council said the referendum was a big chance to involve young people and their families in politics generally. “We believe the forthcoming referendum is a legitimate and indeed valuable learning opportunity with which our schools should engage in a meaningful way,” it said in a statement.
“We support the notion of a nationally agreed strategy and believe schools should consider carefully how to implement a programme, opening a discussion with their parent body as to their plans.”
It has proposed several events to engage parents, including debates and topics for home discussion.
The National Parent Forum for Scotland has also welcomed the plan to establish protocols. Tina Woolnough, the organisation’s Edinburgh representative, said young people should have fair and balanced access to people of all political parties – “these are the voters of the future, after all”. Schools should not be a political “no-go zone” when politics was all around them.
Teaching unions have already requested resources and guidance for schools and colleges on how to help inform young people about the independence referendum without party political bias.