The Big Tent Ideas Festival for Children

Children's Programme image

Trying to interest children in politics may sound ridiculous, but that’s to misunderstand what we mean by ‘politics’.    Politics can not be an academic exercise removed from our daily lives.  It is the process through which we are all able to address the challenges we face and the concerns we have, and that is as true for young people as it is for older ones. 

Indeed, it is at least arguable that children have more of a stake in political debate than the rest of us: they are ones who will have to deal with the consequences of climate change or financial mismanagement.  They are at the forefront of the mental health crisis and will have to navigate the consequences of the advances in AI to name just a very few ways in which the political decisions we take today impact on them.

Big Tent is about giving young people a platform to engage in all these issues.  But for them to want to engage it needs to be a two-way conversation, not a monologue.  This is not old white men, lecturing ‘kids’ on what’s good for them, but an opportunity for young people to make their voices heard.

What does that mean in practice?  Take for example our Students Manifesto session in the Kit Kat Club at 11.10am.  In the run up to the Big Tent Ideas Festival we will be working with pupils from York secondary schools and the Quaker Schools Network to help them produce their own manifesto for education.  How would they reform schools and how they learn?  What should the curriculum look like and is any of it relevant?  

Then, rather than talk at them, the young people will have the opportunity to present their ideas to a panel of education experts – all people who themselves are part of determining and influencing education policy in the City and in the country as a whole.  They include, for example, Cllr Robert Webb, York Council’s newly appointed Cabinet Member for Education and Young People, Natalie Perera, the Chief Executive of the leading Education Policy Institute, Patrick Hurley from the Royal Society for the Arts, which boasts many senior politicians and civil servants as members, and Rachel Sylvester, a columnist with The Times newspaper.

By way of contrast, for young children, our partners the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Game Creators have been working with pupils of Tang Hall Primary School to show us what they want York to look like in 10 years’ time.  Their interactive drop-in session, in Polo Place  any time from 12.20pm until 2.30pm, will give other children the opportunity to view the children’s work and play the video games created from their art and ideas. 

And throughout the day, the young and young at heart can drop into the JRF Marquee to help redesign York out of Lego and Duplo, with the results to be shared with our local decision makers.

There’s lots more for young people at the Big Tent Festival – from walking tours to Dragon’s Den – but underpinning everything we are doing is a strategy designed to ensure their voices are heard.  That’s why we often say that Big Tent is a trick: we invite politicians to come and talk… and they we make them listen.

We hope they will hear from everyone….

To see more of the programme for children and young people please go to and book your free place today.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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