The power of mock elections in schools

Posted on: 14 Jun 2024
Posted by: Kristina Lewis

Kristina Lewis, deputy head (academic) at Blackheath High School GDST, explains the important role mock elections can play in boosting pupils’ civic participation – particularly among girls, who are underrepresented on the world stage.

It’s been dubbed the year of elections, as at least 64 countries – including the UK – are heading for the polls, which all together represent almost half the global population. 

As such, it feels like the perfect time for schools to foster civic engagement and political literacy by organising and running their own mock elections. These provide students with a hands-on opportunity to learn about the democratic process and participate in a simulated electoral experience, with plenty of debate and fun along the way! Most importantly, mock elections promote critical thinking, research skills, and informed decision-making amongst students. Skills that seem more important than ever given the vast acceleration of fake news and AI-generated content we’re facing today.

This year, the UK General Election will take place on Thursday 4 July. Let’s make it a memorable experience for our students, many of whom will be voting for the first time.

For girls, the need for civic participation seems even more pressing when looking at the depressingly low number of women running in this year’s global elections. Analysis from the Guardian shows that of the 42 elections – both presidential and parliamentary – in which the country’s leader is being selected and where candidates have been declared, just 18 have women in the running to be leader. That’s far less than 50%. In just a handful of countries, women have a reasonable chance of winning – based on polling averages and the historical results of the parties they are running for. Whilst this feels gloomy, in the UK, female representation in Parliament is slowly but surely on the rise. With only 3% represented in 1979, we’re now hitting 34% as of 2019. The hope is that 2024 will further increase women’s voices in the chambers.

This matters because when women are not adequately represented in politics, their perspectives, experiences, and needs are often overlooked in decision-making processes. By participating in politics, women can advocate for issues that directly impact them, such as gender equality, reproductive rights, education, and healthcare. 

Mock elections are a brilliant way to fuel political discourse and action within our school communities.

So how do you run a mock election at school? 

First, you’ve got to determine the purpose of the mock election. At Blackheath High School (GDST), we’re hoping it will mirror a real-world election. We’ll ensure it doesn’t clash with any other school events as we want the whole school community to participate. We’ve also decided that the voting method will be paper voting instead of electronic voting to simulate the reality of UK voting. 

Second, choosing students who will run as the candidates. Our candidates will be Sixth Formers and I will encourage students to nominate themselves with a selection process guided by our head of history & politics. 

Third, campaigning is a key part of the mock election so setting clear guidelines, including rules on posters, speeches, and promotional materials, need to be defined. Allocating specific time for candidates to present their ideas to the student body in the form of live debates always sparks lots of energy and enthusiasm. 

Fourth, organising voter registration is an important lesson for students to learn. At Blackheath High, we’ll organise this using a Microsoft Form to ensure everyone who wishes to vote understands the requirement to register their vote.

Throughout the process, we will educate our students about the importance of voting and civic engagement through whole-school assemblies and tutor time, alongside providing resources on the candidates and their platforms so voters can make informed decisions. Sharing a short video about the UK General Election’s electoral process, including how votes are counted and the significance of election results, will ensure students are fully informed.

On election day, it’ll be paramount to set up the polling stations in accessible locations around school, preferably in the main school hall. Ensuring voting booths provide privacy for students casting their ballots along with clear instructions on how to vote (i.e. place a cross in the box of your preferred candidate). Having volunteers – teachers and Sixth Formers – on hand to assist with the voting process is valuable. 

The vote count and results need to involve several people to ensure accuracy and transparency – it might be worth reaching out to the maths department at this point! Allocating sufficient time for counting, especially if using paper ballots, will be essential.

Although it involves a fair bit of logistical work, the payoff is worth it. It’s one of the most memorable days of a student’s time at school, if the mock election is carried out with good planning and clear guidelines. Watching the whole school community come together, in parallel with many other countries around the world in 2024, is powerful.

We have a duty to help our students become politically astute and critically aware of their civic responsibilities. Hosting a mock election is a perfect lesson in this. For the young women in our schools, it feels even more important to spark their political curiosity given figures from 2023 showing the number of UN member states with female leaders fell to 12, down from 17 in 2022. UN Women predicts that at the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.

Let’s inspire a generation of intelligent and empathetic young people to use their voices to speak up for issues they care about, offering a public platform in the form of a whole-school mock election.

About Kristina Lewis

Kristina Lewis is deputy head (academic) at Blackheath High School GDST