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February 26th, 2016

The sleepy faces which greeted my ‘Brexit’ assembly on Wednesday were perhaps representative of young people today.  Often distant and dislocated from politics, it can take a while to pique their interest.

One way to generate a little more interest amongst OSH pupils is to go for the big numbers.   EU membership, the ‘Better Out’ campaign tells us, it costs £200 billion each year and we get little, if anything, back from this.  We’d have to host 200 rugby world cups to generate that kind of wealth, for example.  The ‘Better In’ argument, meanwhile, identifies the EU as accounting for a quarter of the world’s wealth.  With 45% of our exports going to the EU and 50% of our imports coming from it, the EU is a big deal for the UK as the world’s fifth largest economy.

So David, Boris, George and Michael are now taking sides.  Understandably less interested in internal Conservative party politics, those pupils I have spoken to since Wednesday are more concerned about an uncertain future becoming even more uncertain.  The narrative which accompanies school leaving nowadays is less optimistic than it used to be, mainly because of global economic trends and conditions since 2008.  Young people are developing a kind of economic caution and are wary of economic risk.

I would imagine that many young people hearing arguments in favour of staying could, on one hand, be swayed by the notion that Brexit is a ‘leap in the dark’ and too great a risk to the UK economy.  On the other, Michael Gove’s point that the EU is ‘an analogue solution for a digital age’ might sway those who regard staying in itself as the more serious risk.

But where both camps agree, it is on the ability and potential of the people of these islands to make it work.  I think that is sensible and timely, as well as reassuring.  Regardless of whether we stay or go, the people who will have to make it work in the longer term are currently sitting in classrooms the length and breadth of the UK.  Indeed, I’m with Abraham Lincoln here when he reminds us that:

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.

If our media would only spend a significant portion of its time and effort shining a light on the many achievements of young people, rather than amplifying anxiety and peddling pessimism, then I think we’d all be in a better place. The philosophy of our pupils here is very much ‘can-do’.  That’s why I was able to read out to them on Wednesday morning a letter from Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, congratulating them on their academic achievement; it’s why we’re off to the Big Bang in a couple of weeks to compete in the national STEM finals; and finally, it’s why we have eight big musical events in the next four weeks, beginning with tonight’s Battle of the Bands.

7pm in the Foleyan Centre and all are welcome.   But no Europop.

Paul Kilbride