Secondary schools are set to become key political battlegrounds as pro and anti-independence groups go head-to-head to sway first-time 16-year-old voters.
With both sides expected to address pupils on the issues involved, headteachers are to be offered guidance on how to ensure impartiality in the classroom ahead of the poll in September next year.
Education Scotland is currently in talks with the Electoral Commission over the exact advice to issue Scotland’s local authorities and headteachers, which, it is understood, will be handed out this summer.
Leading politics professor John Curtice, from Strathclyde University, said school pupils would be key to the outcome of the referendum. Prof Curtice said: “Schoolchildren aged from 15 and 16 years upwards will be a key demographic for both sides of the debate to target as they are less likely to have already been swayed or to have made their minds up.
“They’ll be a lot more open-minded than say your average 50 or 60-year-old.
“As a result, both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns will view schools as a new battleground and will be watching to ensure fair access to them.
“I presume national guidance will centre on issues such as equality of access and to ensure teachers do not express their own views.
“If a school is already doing politics and modern studies anyway then the referendum should not cause them any real concern.”
The plan to lay down protocols has been welcomed by organisations such as the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) and the National Parent Forum for Scotland.
An SPTC spokeswoman said: “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.”
Tina Woolnough, Edinburgh representative for the National Parent Forum for Scotland, said: “Young people should have fair and balanced access to people of all political parties – these are the voters of the future after all.
“I don’t see any problem with politicians entering schools, both teachers and parents can be members of political parties, schools shouldn’t be a no-go zone when politics is already everywhere else.”
The city council said it was awaiting national guidance over politicians visiting schools in Edinburgh.
An Education Scotland spokesman said: “Education Scotland is working closely with the Electoral Commission and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland on producing advice for Education Authorities and headteachers on issues relating to the forthcoming referendum. This will be issued this summer.”
ROAD TO 2014 CONTINUES
MSPs have voted in favour of the arrangements for next year’s independence referendum, including giving the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.
The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill passed its first stage in the Scottish Parliament yesterday by 97 votes to 12.
But Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald criticised the Scottish Government for taking an “absolutist, fundamentalist” position by barring prisoners from voting.
Deputy First Minister Nicol Sturgeon said ministers were “not persuaded” that convicted prisoners should be allowed to vote in the historic ballot on September 18 next year.