Give young people under 18 the vote
Young people will be disappointed by the Electoral
Commission’s recommendation that they should continue to wait
until they are 18 to exercise their democratic rights.
Young people throughout the UK can only hope that, when
constitutional affairs minister Chris Leslie says the government
will now give these new recommendations “due consideration”, he
also takes into account the pro-youth views of his senior party
colleagues: Tony Blair has hinted that his opposition to lowering
the voting age might be weakening, with schools minister David
Miliband publicly backing such a move.
Only 39 per cent of 18 to 21 year olds turned out at the last
general election – the lowest turnout of any age group. The way to
start to tackle this apathy is clearly to engage young people at
the earliest viable stage. Doesn’t it seem strange that 16
year olds can marry, join the armed forces and pay taxes but cannot
vote? What are we scared of? If we treat young adults like children
then how on earth can we expect them to start forming and
expressing their considered views so as to achieve their full
With more than 80 years experience of involving young people
themselves in governance and decision making within our own
organisation, national youth work charity UK Youth has considerable
evidence to show that, given the opportunity, young people can and
do make an enthusiastic, responsible and significant contribution
to democratic life.
Given the current focus on youth forums, councils and even a
young people’s parliament, it seems paradoxical that we
cannot do the one thing that will make these experiences truly
meaningful for the young people we are so often saying we wish to
John Bateman OBE
Time to fight food industry greed
How refreshing to read Thom Costello’s account of how
pupils at his school claimed a victory over the inexorable march of
corporate greed into our schools.
Despite the advertising industry’s claims to the contrary,
children are increasingly targeted by advertisements encouraging
them to buy, or influence their parents to buy, high fat, high salt
and high sugar food.
The government, meanwhile, refuses to commit to banning food
advertising aimed at children with culture secretary declaring
herself “sceptical about the merits of a ban”.
Instead, she has called on the advertising industry to draw upon
its creative talents in the fight against obesity – fat chance.
Now schools are being targeted as a perfect platform to persuade
children and young people to eat and drink unhealthily.
Children have a right to expect the classroom and school canteen
to be free from advertising and corporate sponsorship – schools
have a right not to have to rely on the thousands of pounds they
earn from positioning fizzy drink vending machines around their
Thom Costello and his fellow students are to be congratulated
for demonstrating how effective pupil power can be.
Uniform response is unnecessary
Brendan Martin’s article on school uniforms was well
argued and persuasive – if you accept the idea that all policies
should be based on the evidence of surveys.
Martin states, “if we are serious about training young people to
become good citizens, shouldn’t we teach them, by example,
that decisions we make about them are based on sound evidence as
well as consultation.” I find this statement naive.
Surely a head teacher should be allowed to introduce a school
uniform if he or she considers it will benefit pupils and the
school in some way. Yes, opinions should be heard and weighed up.
But a situation where those in positions of responsibility need to
consult everybody and conduct interminable surveys immediately
turns a decision-maker into a market researcher.
I agree with Martin that Clarke’s assertion that uniforms
“clearly have a marked effect on improving behaviour” goes too far.
But it is unnecessary for the education minister to make such
claims. The decision must lie with the school and its head.
The real danger is not the threat to children’s rights,
but a paralysis of policy caused by the fear of having to say “no”
to somebody or of upsetting any group. Perhaps enforcing school
uniform in the face of opposition, leading to pupils, say,
presenting a petition to the head in response, would be a valuable
exercise for all. A school in which pupils were totally in
agreement with the head would surely lack a certain spirit!
Public sector workers often complain about bureaucracy. So why
tie everybody up by insisting on research on non-controversial