Sessions 4 and 5: A third runway for Heathrow? A case study of change through democracy

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

Whenever 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. A good example is the decision about whether or not to build a third runway at Heathrow airport.

  • Students will consider the reasons why there are different views about plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport.
  • Students will creatively apply their prior learning to the Heathrow case study.
  • In the roles of different parties affected by the runway, students will develop their own ideas about how to influence the government’s decision.
  • Students will evaluate real actions taken around the issue, considering whether these actions are likely to be effective or not.
Links to National Curriculum

Students will consider the role of citizens in democratic government, the roles played by public institutions and voluntary groups in society, and the ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities.



  • 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. Note that this is designed to cover two sessions.  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. Ask students what the people in the plane and the people in the house might be thinking. Draw out the idea that they might have very different views: for instance, 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: It currently has two runways, but they are building a third.
  • Slide 5: Show students the images of four people who might be affected by a third runway. Ask them to think about whether these people are likely to be for or against the runway and why. Students don’t need to get detailed arguments on either side, but should be 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: Play students the video from the Guardian website, “Heathrow Picnic and Protest” (5 minutes). 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. Give each group a print-out of one of the sheets from MV Citizenship Resource 4.1 Plan an action. In groups, students should 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.
  • Slide 9: Show students the slide with posters about the third runway and talk about their features. Slide 10: Ask them to design their own poster, encouraging people to join their campaign and take an action: e.g. writing a letter, signing a petition, attending a protest. A more challenging activity for G&T students could be to write a speech instead.

Plenary 1

  • Ask students to look at each other’s posters. In particular, they should think about the action the poster is asking them to take: Why might people take this action, and why might they not?  Slide 11: They could write their ideas on post-it notes and stick them on each others’ posters.

Phase 2

  • Slide 12: Students work in pairs. Give out (A3) 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 each one to the pictures on the sheet.
  • 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 websites and newspaper articles about actions people have taken on the third runway. You could ask students to follow these links and, in each case, try to identify which “tool of change” is being used.  You may wish to extend this activity by asking students to find their own links about the third runway and presenting them to the rest of the group.

Plenary 2

  • Slide 13: Bring the class back together.  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 14: Questions to reinforce learning from this activity:
    1. Did everybody who wanted the runway have the same reasons for wanting it? What about the people who were against the runway?
    2. Why is it important to find evidence to support your view?
    3. Is it easy to make change?  Why / why not?


  • Introduce the activity for Session 6.  By the end of today’s session the class should have chosen its own issue and split into the number of groups that will represent different parties in the following session.  Research and complete individual copies of MV Citizenship Resource 6.1 Class case study plan an action for the following session.