Secret School: Why election result makes a clear case for lowering voting age to 16

GCSE A Level students get their results. Charlotte Ward, Aisling Dunn, Lucy Hodgeon and Lydia Bojczuk at North Halifax Grammar School.
GCSE A Level students get their results. Charlotte Ward, Aisling Dunn, Lucy Hodgeon and Lydia Bojczuk at North Halifax Grammar School.

Over the last few weeks, Sheffield schools have engaged magnificently with the general election and incorporated it into their curriculum in exciting ways.

In some schools that has meant holding their own mock general election to examine the party policies, casting their own vote and seeing who would turn out to be the winner if their classrooms were reflective of the nation.

Younger voters who have recently been through school and university gave Theresa May a bloody nose

Other teachers have encouraged children to come up with their own policies – saying what they would do if they were in charge and having a vote on those ideas instead.

Some teachers organised more subtle political discussions, perhaps including a debate in form period. But those discussions have been taking place – and not just in organised forums supervised by staff.

I’ve been in one primary school playground where a group of young boys were actually discussing the merits of Labour and the Conservatives over their lunch in preparation for a vote in the classroom later that afternoon.

Over 2,000 under 15-year-olds took the time to go online and vote in the junior general election organised by First News. The result among them was also a hung Parliament but the real victor was democracy because so many children were engaging with national issues.

The bottom line is that people under 18 are more interested in politics now than at any other time in history. If the election last Thursday taught us anything, it’s that political interest among younger people is on the rise and they are starting to take control of their future in a very responsible way.

It was younger voters who have recently been through the school and university systems that caused the upsurge in Labour voting and gave Theresa May a bloody nose.

Education is one of their biggest issues. Riddled with debt following a costly university course, they’re tired of seeing funding slashed in schools and see no reason why they should have to carry a huge debt for the rest of their lives just because they want to earn a degree and contribute to society by getting a professional job.

They are angry, they want change in the education policy - and they’re not finished yet. It’s seems sensible that the 18-24 age group are starting to call the shots.

After all, it’s their future and it’s better to be decided by them – the people who can’t afford houses – than the people who have had their day and are more interested in saving their estates from the taxman.

But we shouldn’t be stopping here. Political engagement in sixth forms across the city has been so high in recent weeks that there is no doubt the voting age should be lowered to 16.

Students taking their A-levels are mature enough to make an informed decision, would relish the chance to make a difference and are more clued-up about political issues than many folk in their 30s and 40s.

They are a more tolerant, outward-looking generation and have a voice that should be heard.

The decisions made in Parliament are ones that directly affect them. They’re living through school cuts. They’re making the difficult choice about whether to fork out £27,000 on university fees. They’re the ones who have more years of work ahead paying taxes. If the youngsters aged 16 and 17 decide they want higher taxes over the next 20 years to fund education and the NHS, then let it be. Bring it on. We have become accustomed to making decisions and forcing them on young people, and it’s not the way it should be.

Nobody who sits in an A Level Government and Politics lesson could possibly argue that 16 and 17-year-olds are less informed than the general population. If you have visited a Citizenship or General Studies lesson you would have often seen political debate.

The Tory government has shut down these two qualifications and will fight against lowering the voting age because they would lose more control. But I say they can make their own informed choices.