Sessions 4 and 5: A third runway for Heathrow? A case study of democratic tools of change

Citizenship (Ages 11-14)
Sessions 4 and 5: A third runway for Heathrow? A case study of democratic tools of change
  • Different Needs, Common Ground
  • A third runway for Heathrow? A case study of making change through democracy
Key Messages

Whenever an organisation, including the government, has to make a decision, there will be some who agree and others who disagree. In a democracy, there are a wide range of methods that can be used to try to influence the outcome (the "tools of change"). A controversial example is the decision about whether or not to build a third runway at Heathrow airport.

In this case the controversial issue is the construction of a third runway at London Heathrow Airport, considering the legally binding commitment by the UK in the Paris Agreement of 2015 to limit carbon emissions. In an age of global warming and climate and ecological emergency, how do we balance individual interests with national financial, educational and cultural interests abroad, considering negative impacts resulting from carbon emissions?

  • Consider why there are different views about plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport.
  • Apply prior learning about the tools of democracy to the Heathrow case study.
  • Research the impact that a third runway would have on carbon emissions as against the potential economic / educational / cultural / leisure benefits.
  • Develop ideas about influencing decision-making.
  • Evaluate real actions taken and consider their effectiveness.
  • Develop thinking around the interested parties in the debate.
Links to National Curriculum
  • Acquire a sound knowledge and understanding of how the United Kingdom is governed, its political system and how citizens participate actively in its democratic systems of government
  • The ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities
  • There are also links to the KS3 Geography curriculum.


  • This lesson plan is designed to cover Sessions 4 and 5.
  • This session uses the third runway at Heathrow as a case study of democratic change. The focus is on the ways that people have campaigned on the issue, rather than the details of the runway itself. You may want to display the print-outs of the images of the tools of change from the previous session around the room.
  • Begin by showing Slides 1 and 2 of MV Citizenship Resource 4.1 Heathrow case study, the image of a low-flying plane above someone’s house. What might the people in the plane and the people in the house be thinking? Draw out the idea that they would have very different views. The person in the plane might be relaxing and going off on holiday, while the person in the house might be annoyed by the aircraft noise.

Phase 1

  • Slide 3 Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK.
  • Slide 4 Heathrow airport has two runways, but there have been plans to build a third one since 2009. What problems could a third runway at Heathrow cause? Any others apart from what is indicated in the picture? (For example, environmental impact, noise pollution.) Although there is a reference to completion being due in 2019 (now passed) the same issues are ongoing.
  • Slide 5 Show students the images of four people who might be affected by a third runway. Organise this activity however works best. Students can work in pairs, groups or whole class. Are these people are likely to be for or against the runway? Why? This is a quick activity to make students aware of general issues in the debate: Noise, climate change, jobs, business. Also point out that there are villages in the path of the third runway.
  • Slide 6 Look at the page from Greenpeace, “Vigil against Heathrow expansion”. It shows a woman and her children going to a protest against the third runway at Heathrow airport. Ask students to answer the questions on the slide.
  • Slide 7 Remind the class about the “tools of change” from the previous session.
  • Slide 8 Divide students into seven groups and assign each group one of the roles (local residents, workers, businesspeople, citizens against climate change, local MP's, environmentalists, Heathrow bosses). Give each group a print-out of one of the sheets from MV Citizenship Resource 4.2 Plan an action. In groups, students use the headings to plan a campaign either for or against the runway depending on the role they have been assigned. Encourage them to think creatively about how they could use the tools of change.
  • You may wish to provide students with document, Information to support research on carbon emissions.
  • Slide 9 Talk about the posters and their features. Slide 10 The groups design their own poster, encouraging people to join their campaign, and include a call to action (for example, signing a petition, attending a protest). G&T students could write a speech.
  • Slide 11 Students look at each others' posters. In particular, they should think about the call to action: Why might people join in, and why might they not? Students write their ideas on post-it notes and stick them around the relevant posters.

Phase 2

  • Students work in pairs. Give out print-outs of MV Citizenship Resource 4.3 No third runway. It gives six examples, taken from real sources quoted at the bottom, of actions taken by opponents of the runway. Students read the examples and then match them to the pictures.
  • There are questions on Slide 12 to encourage students to think about the different actions that people have taken.
  • Alternatively, if the students have internet access you may wish to use MV Citizenship Resource 4.4 Online research sheet with links to the sources referred to in Resource 4.3. In pairs or groupings of your choice, students access the list by opening it directly as a Word document from this page. Download the page, save it and work on it. Follow the list of links and, in each case, note which “tool of change” is being used. Depending on ability level and time available, extend this activity with students making their own list of links about the third runway and presenting some to the rest of the group.
  • The last question on Slide 12 is, "Which is the best way of making change? Give reasons for your answer." You could have a show-of-hands vote with some students giving reasons for their choice. If students do not conclude that different tools are useful in different situations, and that a combination of tools is needed, you may want to suggest it.
  • Slide 13 Optional question: What's the latest? At the time of writing (updated 2021), the issue still hasn't been resolved! Follow the link to find out more (Does Britain still need a third runway at Heathrow? Evening Standard, November 2020). There are three headings just under half way down the page: What about the 3rd Runway? Why is Heathrow still so keen on the 3rd Runway? Is there a solution? What can we learn from all of this?


  • Slide 14 The big vote! With a show of hands, take a vote on whether or not the plans for the third runway should go ahead. They can vote for, against or abstain. Students can explain their reasons. Record how many vote for each option. What is the outcome? How does the class feel about it?
  • Slide 15 Questions to reinforce learning from this activity:
    1. Does everybody who wants the runway have the same reasons? What about the people who are against it?
    2. Why is it important to find evidence to support your view?
    3. Is it easy to make change? Why? / Why not?

Homework / Prepare for Session 6

  • Ask students to think back to the start of the module when they thought about an aspect of their home that they would like to change, and then an aspect of the country. Now they are going to think of something about the school that they would like to change. Slide 16 Introduce the activity for Session 6: "Think about something that you would like to improve about the school." You could do this as a think-pair-share. By the end of today’s session the group chooses its own issue. Split the group into two; for and against. Within those groups, think of the different interested parties and split into groups representing each party. For homework, research and complete individual copies of MV Citizenship Resource 6.1 Class case study plan an action.