What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them?

A few weeks ago when I crowdsourced some election myths for this post, I was asked an interesting question by a Year 5 student: How do you know the difference between different political parties and what they are promising?

It turned out to be such a good question that I’m going to devote two blog posts to it! Today, I’ll be exploring political parties themselves.

 
What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them? A look at political parties in Australia and how we can create effective lessons to teach this sometimes complex topic. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

What are political parties?

Political parties are groups of people who believe in a set of values and ideals. They group together with the aim of winning elected positions at federal, state or local elections.

Members of political parties help to shape policies, vote to choose candidates for elections, help campaign for their political party and celebrate (or commiserate) after elections. Many Australians don’t belong to political parties, but might generally support one or another of them.

While the people in political parties share similar values, they don’t all agree all of the time. Party members, including MPs and Senators, might have strong disagreements about different party policies or ideas. However, these disagreements are usually worked out in party meetings and often aren’t argued in public. Australian political parties are known for having this ‘tight discipline’ which means that MPs and Senators from a certain party usually vote for that party in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Sometimes political parties with some similar values work together in a Coalition. Meanwhile, MPs or Senators who don’t belong to a political party are called independents.

Lesson idea: Students can develop their own political party. They should think about what kind of values are important to them, then create an advertisement convincing people to join their party.

Why are political parties important?

Political parties are important because they help groups of people work together to get people elected and to create laws and policy which promote their values. But there are other reasons why political parties are important.

In Australian federal politics, the political party (or coalition) which has the most elected MPs becomes the Government. This means they can choose ministers, develop policies, implement laws and run government departments. They also choose the Prime Minister.

Because the political party chooses the Prime Minister (and not the people of Australia), the ruling political party can change the Prime Minister anytime they want to (as we have seen a lot in recent years). This means any elected member of the ruling political party might become Prime Minister . . . This might be another reason for voters to choose a particular political party.

Lesson idea: Students explore how Prime Ministers are chosen - and discuss what qualities a good Prime Minister should have. Students can turn this discussion into a ‘job application’ to find an excellent Prime Minister.

 
What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them? A look at political parties in Australia and how we can create effective lessons to teach this sometimes complex topic. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

A Quick History of Australia’s Political Parties

In the early 1900s, Australia had three main political parties. The Protectionist Party wanted tariffs and taxes on imports into Australia to protect Australian products and jobs. The Free Trade Party wanted to get rid of taxes and tariffs to allow everyone to share in the wealth of the country. And the Australian Labor Party represented workers groups (or unions) to make sure that workers had fair pay and safe working conditions.

Over time, many political parties have come and gone in Australia. Some of them held positions of power in the Australian parliament, while others may have had a few elected members (or none) before dissolving. The Australian Labor Party is the only surviving party from the original big three.

Lesson idea: Students explore which Prime Ministers represented which party in the early 1900s. They can look a little closer at what policies they promoted and what kinds of laws were put in place.

Today’s Political Parties

Today there are still three main political parties who form government - but they’re a little different from the 1900s.

The Australian Labor Party still aims to represent workers and unions. They also describe themselves as a social-democratic party, which means they think the government should step in to promote social justice through social or economic means.

The Nationals Party is the second oldest party in Australia, founded in 1920. It aims to represent farmers, as well as people who live outside the big cities in Australia. The Nationals often work to make sure that people outside the cities have the same access to services as the people in the cities. They work in a coalition with the Liberal Party of Australia and share some - though not all - of the same values.

The Liberal Party of Australia was formed in 1944 after a meeting of organisations which opposed the Australian Labor Party. Their goal was to form a party based on individual freedom and personal choice. As part of this, they supported (and continue to support) free business - believing that business is the best way to create national and individual growth and wealth. They work in coalition with the National Party.

There are also a number of minor parties (or smaller parties) in Australia. At the moment, the biggest of those is the Australian Greens, a party which grew out of the environmental movement, but now works to develop policies around the environment and integrity, fairness and decency.

There are a number of other smaller parties who run in elections and have one or two elected members. These often change as their popularity grows or falls.

You can get a better understanding of different parties by exploring their values - what ideas they think are most important.

Lesson: Students can create a diagram showing the different political parties in Australia. They might like to research to discover what the core values of the parties are and if they’ve changed since the parties were first formed. Students can use these diagrams to highlight the differences between different parties.

In part 2, I’m going to take a little look at what political policies are, how to examine them, and how to tell the difference between them.

Want to read more? Try . . .

5 Things You Need to Teach Year 4 Civics and Citizenship

The Year 4 Australian Civics and Citizenship curriculum introduces students to some really important concepts - helping them understand the influence of government, laws and the communities they belong to on their everyday life. But what do teachers need to know to make these lessons more effective?

 
5 Things You Need to Teach Year Four Australian Civics and Citizenship. An overview of the Australian Civics and Citizenship HASS outcomes with teaching ideas for busy teachers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

1. What is Government?

Year 4 students are asked to explore local government and the services of local government. But before students can effectively tackle this subject, they should have some understanding of what government is.

This may seem like a fairly simple concept, but like many simple concepts it can be hard to define clearly for our students.

You may like to start by gauging student understanding. Ask students to write or draw what they think government is or to engage in a think-pair-share while defining government. Students can work collaboratively to create a collage showing what government is or can interview each other about what they think government involves.

Students may also like to add to their understanding of government as they spend more time learning about local government.

2. What does your Local Government Involve?

The local government outcome is a great way for students to take an introductory look at elections and at how government plays a role in everyday life. But there’s a number of things which you can do to make this more successful.

It’s possible that you live in a different local council area to your students or that your students live across two different council areas. This means you may need to do a little research on a different council area and some of the services which the local council offers.

It’s worthwhile getting in contact with your local council as you are planning your lessons. They might have educational materials which you can use in your classroom or they might be able to suggest excursion opportunities or aspects of the council which you may not have thought of. You might also be able to get a guest speaker from the local council - many local councillors engage in school visits and might be happy to speak with your students about the services offered by local government.

Another area of your local government to explore is the local libraries. You may be able to take students there as an excursion, and librarians are often available to show students the many services available through the libraries and through library websites - all services offered by local governments. (They might even have teaching materials available!)

 
5 Things You Need to Teach Year Four Australian Civics and Citizenship. An overview of the Australian Civics and Citizenship HASS outcomes with teaching ideas for busy teachers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

3. The Difference Between Rules and Laws

Another Year 4 Australian Civics and Citizenship outcome asks students to explore the place of laws in their life and how laws differ from rules.

As you approach these lessons, you might like to collect examples of rules which students might encounter. From school rules, to classroom rules, to household rules to shopping centre or play centre rules - although students see these daily, they may not have really examined them.

As they examine them, they can start to understand how rules differ from laws. The difference between rules and laws is another concept which can be simple, but can be complicated. It’s worthwhile spending a little time to write down your ideas on the concept to get them firmly worked out as you plan lessons and learning experiences for your students.

Students can also build a ‘growing’ definition of rules and laws - adding to or refining their understanding as they work through lessons on the topic.

4. Identity - and how it is shaped by different things

The Civics and Citizenship curriculum asks students to explore how their identity is shaped by the groups they are part of. This is a rather complex topic - what is meant by groups? What is meant by identity?

One way you can prepare to teach this topic is to take a moment to reflect on your own identity and how that has been shaped by groups. Some of the groups you belong to may not have much of an influence on your identity - my family background is Scottish, but other than an interest in visiting Scotland one day, it doesn’t have a massive influence on my day to day life. Other groups you belong to might make a daily impact on your life - my immediate family group prioritises dinner time, so we cook dinner and eat together almost every night - this is a group which has a big impact on what I do every day.

Reflecting on your own identity can help you plan a way for your students to explore the groups they belong to and how those shape their own identities. Students may be surprised to discover how many groups they belong to - from groups connected with their heritage, groups connected to their religion, groups connected to their family, friendship groups, school groups and activity groups. You can also explore other groups in your community - especially cultural, religious and activity groups.

5. Symbols and Traditions

As well as exploring groups in the community, Year 4 students are asked to reflect on the symbols and traditions of these groups. This might include ceremonies, activities, anthems, poems, school songs, colours or logos.

You might like to spend some time collecting examples of symbols and traditions before students start exploring these topics. This might include the logos, colours and uniforms of local sports teams; uniforms, mottos and school songs from local schools; traditions of local religious denominations or traditions of military or returned service people groups.

You can present these symbols and traditions to your students, asking them to reflect on why they might be important, why they may have developed, what they say about the groups and how they influence identity.

Looking for comprehensive Year 4 Civics and Citizenship resources? Explore the Year 4 Civics and Citizenship Complete Bundle and the Mini Units, Assessment Tasks and Word Wall and Poster resources which make up the Bundle.