Students at Richmond School and Sixth Form College held their own referendum, following a week of activities and presentations about parliament from guest speakers Rishi Sunak MP and Baroness Harris of Richmond. During ‘Parliament Week’ the students discussed whether the legal age to vote should be lowered from 18 to 16. Sixth Form leaders, Daisy Cooil, Ben Clarke and Joe Mawer led assemblies, in School and the Sixth Form College, presenting arguments for and against the proposal. It was interesting for students to learn that Richmond School has a strong association with Parliament, with alumni Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834.
During the visit from Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond, he was involved in lively debates with the Sixth Form students on a variety of subjects from Brexit through to populism. He also shared his thoughts on lowering the voting age to 16. He pointed out that in the last general election 80% of over 70s voted, compared to just 50% of the 18-25 year old group. His view was that more attention should be focused on encouraging this age group to vote before considering lowering the age limit.
Students were given a further week to consider the arguments, for and against and then 731 students, from Years 7 and 11 in School and Years 12 and 13 in the Sixth Form College, placed their vote. This represented an overall 54 % turnout with the surprise result in favour of keeping the voting age at 18. Interestingly, the Sixth Form poll attracted a 73% turnout, suggesting that the older students were more interested in politics and more likely to vote.
Rishi Sunak said: “I very much enjoyed my visit during Parliament Week and to have the opportunity to talk to the students about the importance of democracy and the role they should play once they have the chance to vote. I was mightily impressed by the questions posed by the sixth-formers, many of whom are clearly very interested in politics. They asked me exactly the sort of probing questions I would have expected to be asked if I was being quizzed by one of the country’s top political journalists.”
Comments Clare Clish, Lead Teacher of Business and Economics: “It was fantastic to see how readily all of our students engaged with the activities taking place throughout Parliament week. From posing challenging questions to both Baroness Harris and Rishi Sunak MP, to participating in the following mock referendum, it has been clear how interested in politics and the democratic process our students are. We’re very grateful to our visitors for giving up their time to provide students with an invaluable first-hand account of life in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords”.
Ben Clarke, Headboy concluded: “Parliament Week was a great success. It was a busy week for the Government, which provided a lot of ammunition for questions put to Rishi Sunak MP when he gave students a talk. I was surprised by the referendum, especially as the older students voted not to lower the voting age.”