Politics Student Views – Votes at 16: The Debate

Votes at 16? Yes or No?

Big question. Big solutions. Two sides.

At what age should we trust people to make adult choices? It’s a tough philosophical question, possibly reflected in our inconsistent law-making. We asked a couple of students, Amos and Thomas, to mount the soapbox and focus on the thorny issue of votes at 16. Who will get your vote?

Amos: What can you do at the age of 16? Well, you can consent to sexual activity, you can join the armed forces, you can even choose to get married, if that’s what you wish. But one thing you can’t do is vote.

Considering that the things you can do can affect the rest of your life, why can’t 16-year olds do the most important thing to help them shape their future?

In 2016 Britain voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. This was a major decision for the country, and many young adults like myself were frustrated that we didn’t get a say in what happened. So surely things need to change and 16-year olds should be given a voice where they can vote for their future?

Thomas: With regards to your first point, it’s worth noting that while you can indeed join the armed forces and get married at 16, you may only do so with parental consent. And if you were to join the armed forces at 16, you would spend your first two years in training and at an army college; you are not legally allowed to be deployed to a battlefield until you turn 18.

16-year olds are not deemed mature enough to make such decisions of their own volition and so, if the franchise were extended to 16-year olds, there would be a level of inconsistency in the way 16-year olds are treated. That is, unless your personal view is that 16, not 18, is the age of maturity/adulthood, and that you would be in favour of removing the age restrictions on being deployed to a battlefield, purchasing age-restricted items (alcohol, cigarettes, knives), allowing 16-year olds to drive, and forcing them to be tried as an adult in a court. The list goes on.

You make the point that as 16-year olds can make life-shaping decisions, they should therefore be entitled to a vote. I would argue that this logic is flawed, as if we were to follow that rule an argument could be made to go further than just 16.

For example, choosing your GCSE options in Year 9 (aged 13/14) will have ripple effects upon what A levels you can take, which in turn will effect what you can study at degree level. Surely, if your argument is that you should have the vote if the things you ‘do can affect the rest of your life’, the argument could be made for going further than just 16? This argument, like the last, is flawed. It is not an argument for 16-year olds to be given the vote, but merely an open argument against having the current age at 18.

This flaw was carried on into your final point. The decision to leave the European Union won’t just affect those 16 and over. It will affect everyone…15-year olds, 14-year olds. Should everyone who is affected by a decision have a vote? Should those in primary schools have a vote, as they are affected by the government’s education policy?

As you believe that 16 is the age at which maturity is reached, would you support the removal of all the current protections afforded to 16-year olds which I set out earlier? Also, why do you believe in votes at 16, but not at 15?

Amos: It’s a very good argument that 16-year olds may not have the maturity to vote on important issues, or even be interested. But that can be said for people at 18, in fact this inconsistency runs through all ages.

Perhaps the opportunity to vote at 16 would make more young people interested in politics.

Using the example of Brexit again, a lot of young people who were unable to vote may already be disillusioned with the political system and feeling their voices aren’t being heard. I think you’re wrong to sell 16-year olds short and say they don’t have the maturity to help make big decisions.

Look at the Scottish Referendum, 16-year olds were allowed to vote and arguably with great success.

Around 80% of the eligible voters turned out. This is compelling evidence that 16-year olds are ready, as those in Scotland clearly felt they needed to make that difference.

Yes, of course, I admit there has to be a line, and people will continue to debate that if 16-year olds are given the vote, why not even younger people? But I feel the completion of secondary education would leave 16-year olds in an excellent position. They would’ve been in an environment for five years where their minds would’ve been expanded and picked up some social knowledge. They would have also been in an environment where they would’ve been involved in making decisions in a subtle way.

After completing GCSEs is the time where most people will be in a better position to decide on their future, whether enrolling on an apprenticeship or continuing formal education. And surely, if they’re making such big decisions in their own lives, they should be able to have a say on the world around them.

You state that 16-year olds need permission to join the army and get married, but it’s still their decision to do that. If you feel that 16-year olds need adult permission to vote, then so be it, build it into the system.

Of course, the age to buy alcohol and cigarettes should remain at 18, but that’s more to do with health than maturity. And yes, they’re seen as children in the eyes of the law, but not everything should run in a strict line.

Thomas: On the first point, I do agree. The issue of engagement and interest in politics does vary across all age groups. This is why we should not base the vote on engagement as you suggest. Rather, we should base the privilege of the vote on something immovable, like a clear age which doesn’t give rise to the inconsistencies that 16 has. At 18 you’re an adult, you’ve grown into your full rights and responsibilities as a citizen, and thus you should at that age receive the vote.

You also talk about maturity of 16-year olds. It isn’t me saying that 16-year olds cannot make decisions for themselves – you yourself have said that the state should step in to prevent 16-year olds from buying cigarettes and alcohol. You don’t believe they are mature enough to decide for themselves if they want a drink, but they are mature enough to cast their vote?

Following on from this point, giving 16-year olds the right to vote would introduce an absurd situation in which somebody could vote in an election but could not stand in an election. That is, unless you wish to reduce the age at which you can stand to 16 too, in which case you believe that 16-year olds should be able to decide on issues of war and peace, but not decide on whether to have a cigarette. It simply makes more sense to have a harmonised age. When the state allows you to decide on issues affecting you and your health, that should also be the age at which you can decide upon the health of the wider society.

In response to my question about the line between 15 and 16-year olds you say that 16-year olds have passed the milestone of completing secondary education. I’d remind you that students start turning 16 in the September of Year 11, not upon completion of Year 11. In the end, the debate should be around which age makes the most sense. With 18 being the age at which the vast majority of countries extend the privilege of the vote, with it being the age of adulthood, with it being the age at which you assume your responsibilities as a citizen, with it being the age at which you are recognised as being old enough to make decisions for yourself, it makes much more sense to keep the voting age at 18, as opposed to reducing it to 16 over some vague notion of wanting to increase turnout (and in the process give rise to major inconsistencies in the law).

Amos: Like I argued previously I do feel that the drinking and smoking age should remain at 18, but that is not in any way about denying them that decision because they are not mature enough to take it; it is more about their medical needs. Just because 16-years olds can’t buy alcohol doesn’t mean we have to follow that age cut off for everything.

You also said they cannot stand for Parliament. That is very true, but they can still be involved in other ways. It’s unlikely that anyone at 18 could successfully run for Parliament, even though they are allowed.

16-years olds are still able to actively participate in politics, campaigning, for example, so just because they can’t run for Parliament shouldn’t mean they should be denied a vote on who they want to represent them.

16-year olds are more socially aware than you give them credit for. Even while still in school, people can start to build their understanding of the political and start to formulate their own beliefs.

And I don’t think they should be allowed to vote just because it’ll improve turnout stats. I believe they should vote because they have enough understanding to form their own opinions, and with the power of social media it’s hard for 16-year olds not to be involved.

And, of course, there will still be people who aren’t interested, but it may lower that number and may make politics a more central part of education.

In conclusion, this is an important issue whose time has come. I feel there’s a huge demand for this decision to be made – in the 2017 election Jeremy Corbyn pulled in young voters, with those who couldn’t vote still interested. As a member of a political party I was allowed to vote for who I thought should’ve been leader of my party when I was only 16, so why shouldn’t this be the case at a national level. Put faith in 16-year olds and I’m sure they’ll repay it.

Thomas: On your first point, you say that 16 and 17-year olds shouldn’t be able to buy alcohol for health reasons, and then say that denying them that ability is not an issue of maturity. But it is. Telling somebody that they are not old enough to make a certain decision about their lives is absolutely questioning their level of maturity.

On the second point, there is a clear inconsistency in saying that a person should be able to vote for somebody else to represent their area, but not be allowed to put themselves forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s unlikely that an 18-year old would be elected, it’s the principle behind it that counts (although don’t forget Mhairi Black was elected at 20).

I don’t accept the argument that simply because somebody knows a bit about politics or goes campaigning, they should be able to vote. Plenty of people under 16 know about politics. Plenty of under 16s go campaigning. At what point do we say that ‘this age is the cut-off point’. If we reduced it to 16, would there then be a campaign to reduce it to 15-year olds?

Finally, you raise two points: young people becoming more engaged in the 2017 election and voting in the 2015 Labour leadership election. On the first, analysis of the 2017 election found that there was only a very modest increase in turnout among under 24s, and turnout among those aged 18-20s may have actually decreased compared with 2015. Either way, we should not base our franchise on turnout. On your second point, anyone over the age of 14 (and a Labour member/supporter) could vote in the 2015 leadership election. From what I’ve seen, there’s no argument for reducing the voting age specifically to 16. Many of the arguments and examples which have been used could also be applied to people under the age of 16.

Student View: Bethany – Secondary RE with QTS

Students get first hand experience of other faiths
Bethany, Secondary RE with QTS student

Hello. My name’s Bethany and I’m a first year Secondary RE student from Leeds, living on campus in halls of residence.

I studied English and Sociology at A level, and BTECs in Performing Arts and Music. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, though, and through studying Religious Education at GCSE and aspects of my A level Sociology course, I knew this was the subject I wanted to specialise in. I chose secondary teaching because I had such a positive relationship with my teachers, and a positive experience of high school and sixth form.  

I knew I wanted to be an RE teacher but I didn’t know that there was any route other than a three year degree followed by a PGCE. At Edge Hill I discovered I’d be able to become a qualified RE teacher within three years through the Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) route. It’s not offered by many universities, and a major reason for choosing this very exclusive course: to know I could be a qualified teacher within three years, and then take on a Masters degree, seemed like a no-brainer. The quality of teaching at Edge Hill (they hold TEF Gold status) and the choice of modules was further confirmation that this was the right degree for me. And the amazing campus sealed the deal.

Stained glass windows and sculpture inside Liverpool's Catholic cathedral.

We’ve had some amazing opportunities in our first year, such as attending a SACRE meeting, where they discuss what’s going to be on the RE curriculum in certain counties, and visiting Liverpool’s two great cathedrals.

But two experiences stand out.

Lecturer teaches the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah.

The first was early in the course when our lecturer introduced us to the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah, and we ate apples with honey, following traditional practice. It was really good to see different cultures being brought into the learning environment in this way.

My other highlight was taking a trip to the Rowan Park SEN (Special Educational Needs) school. It was such an eye-opening and heart-warming experience to see children learn in a way that I wasn’t familiar with. The children were filled with such happiness and the school ensured that learning was fun. This has really opened my eyes to the possibility of working at an SEN school.

India Johnson

BSc (Hons) Psychology

“It’s not just about sitting in a lecture theatre and being taught, you are encouraged to learn through being interactive and exploring the aspects we individually find interesting”

India Johnson

Hi, my name is India, I am 19 years old and from York, and I have just completed my first year studying Psychology. I decided to apply to do Psychology at Edge Hill as I have always been interested in learning the reasons behind everyone being so different to each other and how the brain works. I chose to study at Edge Hill as when I visited on open days the campus was really pretty, welcoming and it felt like a much more homely environment as it was a campus university rather than spread out across a city like most of the other universities I was looking at.

One of my favourite parts of the course is having the opportunity to learn in different ways, for example we get to take part in experiments and conduct our own which is really interesting. It’s not just about sitting in a lecture theatre and being taught, you are encouraged to learn through being interactive and exploring the aspects we individually find interesting. I find this a fantastic opportunity that not all courses offer. I’m looking forward to future years on this course as we get more opportunities to take part in further studies and also work with our lecturers and help them with their research.

After I graduate I’m hoping to stay on and complete a masters and possibly a doctorate as I’m aiming to become a clinical psychologist where I can work with children; I’d be really interested in working alongside social workers and similar roles to help children who really need it.

India with the EHU Sign Language Society

I have 2 highlights so far, one of them was when I started getting my results of this year through. It was amazing to see that, even though I was very nervous to come to university as I wasn’t sure if I’d struggle, that I can and did do well. My second highlight of this year came from being part of Edge Hill’s sign language society. The society conducted a sign language flash mob of ‘Fight Song’ during Disability Awareness Week. It was amazing to see how our hard work learning the song and sign language came together and looked amazing whilst also promoting deaf awareness.

Daria Bannan

BA (Hons) Criminology

“Although going into a prison seems really scary at first, it’s actually very interesting and allows me to see the day-to-day goings on within a prison, as well as the standard of education prisoners in the UK are provided.”

Hi! I’m Daria, a second year student here at Edge Hill University.

I chose to study Criminology at University because I have a really keen interest in society and how society responds to crime, how we punish crime and how different sexes, social groups are victims of crime and how their punishments differ.

Here at Ede Hill I have taken many interesting modules, and my favourite module so far would have to be Generating Reputations. This module goes into extreme detail on how social groups are given their identity and how different social groups are punished more harshly than others.

During my time at Edge Hill I’ve had many opportunities from the Criminology department, including a module called ‘Learning Together’ that I’ll undertake in my third year. This module allows students to go into prisons, such as Thorn Cross in Liverpool, to learn with prisoners. Although this seems really scary at first, it’s actually very interesting and allows me to see the day-to-day goings on within a prison, as well as the standard of education prisoners in the UK are provided.

I chose to study at Edge Hill because it had a really friendly feel to me and it me and was just what I wanted in a University. Edge Hill has many different sports teams and societies, and I’m part of the EHU Emeralds – a Cheerleading society – and this has taught me how to dance and do stunts, as well as increasing my confidence and pushing me outside my comfort zone.

I have met many friends through the EHU Emeralds, as well as on my course and living in halls. Edge Hill is just really a friendly place and I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far. I hope my insights might help you in making what can seem to be a very scary and hard decision.

Lauren Phelan

BA (Hons) Primary Mathematics Education with QTS

“It’s amazing to be able to train and further my experience in a school setting whilst being supported by my mentor at school and tutors at university.”

Lauren Phelan

“My name is Lauren, and I’ve just finished my first year of the BA (Hons) Primary Mathematics Education course at Edge Hill University.

I decided that I wanted to study a Primary Education course at University after I volunteered at a local primary school.  This work experience confirmed to me that I wanted to enter the teaching profession and so I began to research into universities and I soon realised that Edge Hill was the place for me.

My favourite part of studying Primary Education is definitely attending professional practice as this is what I want to do for my career. It’s amazing to be able to train and further my experience in a school setting whilst being supported by my mentor at school and tutors at university.

My course has provided me with many opportunities to develop my experience of teaching through placements and exemplar days which allow me to observe experienced teachers and get involved in their lessons, which gives me knowledge of a broad range of teaching methods.

When I graduate from University, I hope to secure my first teaching job, and I look forward to making a difference to children’s education.”

Sam Colson

BSc (Hons) Marketing with Digital Communications

“From the very beginning of the course we have been encouraged to think outside the box and be creative.”

My journey into higher education and my decision to study marketing at university started when I fell in love with my GCSE Business Studies course. The idea of setting up my own business appealed to me and it quickly became one of my favourite subjects. Therefore, when it came to choosing my A Level subjects, it was no contest that business studies would be one of my options. In my A level course, we had to analyse and look at the marketing efforts of the entertainments company Merlin Entertainments. I quickly learnt that marketing was not only one of the most important aspects of a business, but was also the part of business I wanted to go into when looking for a job.

My favourite part of my university course is the fact that the Business School offers so many opportunities that not only make us more employable but allow us to get involved more with the university and undertake activities we can put on our CV. In my first year, I applied to be a student representative, and as a result, I represent my year’s marketing students in meetings with the lecturers and staff in the Business School. I have also taken part in an International Collaboration in a marketing exercise with visiting students from The Netherlands.   From the very beginning of the course we have been encouraged to think outside the box and be creative. One of our first exercises was the “Reimagining Ormskirk Task,” where, in groups we had to come up with ideas to reform the traditional market town for today’s consumer using a range of marketing techniques. This was a really interesting experience and a great introduction to my course, not least because my team won the task! It definitely reaffirmed that marketing is the subject I wanted to study and the career I want to pursue after graduation.

Anya Law

BSc (Hons) Nutrition & Health

“The welcoming and approachable atmosphere is one of the many reasons why I love studying at Edge Hill.”

Hi. My name is Anya and I am in my second year at Edge Hill University,  studying BSc (Hons) Nutrition and Health.

My experience of living on campus and in Ormskirk.

In my first year, I lived on campus in Graduates Court. I loved living on campus as it was a great way to meet people and my flatmates became some of my first friends at University. I was nervous to move away from home, but everyone moving out was in the same boat – alone and wanting to make friends. After a few days, I felt at home in my flat, luckily, I didn’t feel homesick at all, but lots of people do and it’s completely normal. Being on campus made socialising easy as lots of events and nights out happen on campus, so everything is a short walk away. My room had a single bed and en-suite bathroom, and I shared my kitchen/living area with 5 other people. I found this great, as I had room to socialise with my flatmates, but also the privacy of my room when I needed it. Living on campus is not for everyone, but I really recommend it, especially if it is your first time living alone. You have your flatmates with you, on-campus 24-hour security if anything goes wrong, and you’re within a 10-minute walk from all the campus facilities, like the gym, Student’s Union, shop, bar and more. 

In my second year, I lived in Ormskirk town centre with my flatmates from first year. I enjoyed living in town as I was a 2-minute walk from the supermarkets and shops and only a 10-minute walk to campus, so I had the best of both worlds. My house had 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a small garden area. I found living off campus to be cheaper, but it depends on what type of accommodation you want to live in. Finding a second-year house or flat can be tricky, but Edge Hill host events to explain the process and gives a list of all the landlords that they recommend in the area. Overall, I preferred living on campus for the convenience, but everyone is different, and I recommend looking at both options when moving to University.

My top 3 things about studying at Edge Hill University

  • Firstly, the community feel of campus is one of my favourite parts of studying at Edge Hill. For me, I found larger, city-based Universities a bit intimidating which is what lead me to a smaller, campus-based University like Edge Hill. This environment helps me with studying as I have found people to be more open and friendly. In my lectures and seminars, everyone knows one another, and we all help each other with our work. We have a class group chat and we often message asking for advice with the assignments. This helps to keep you on track and know that other people may be struggling with work at times too. The welcoming and approachable atmosphere is one of the many reasons why I love studying at Edge Hill.
  • I love studying at Edge Hill because of the library, which is located in the Catalyst Building and recently built in 2018. Sometimes libraries can be old-fashioned and unwelcoming, but our library is very modern and has everything you need. Across the four floors are different study environments from social study to silent study, which are all open 24/7. They have lots of books, journals, computers, and laptops to use, as well as private study rooms which can be booked for free online. These can be individual so you can have your own space, or group rooms to practice group projects and presentations. The library also offers study skills workshops for free, where you can learn necessary academic skills which you may not know or have forgotten, for example referencing workshops and CV help.
  • Finally, the lecturers at Edge Hill are very supportive with our academic and personal progression. When joining Edge Hill, you are assigned a personal tutor to help you throughout University with any issues. Also, on my course we are given lots of support for assignments, including marked drafts and one to one feedback sessions to help improve. This level of support is fantastic as University is mainly about independent work, but it is nice to know who you can turn to when you’re stuck.

My Life in Teaching: Addison Brown, Class of 2017

Addison Brown in a still from the Government's recent 'Every Lesson Shapes a Life' campaign video, stood outside a building in London.

Addison Brown studied for a PGCE in Secondary Science (Biology) with qualified teacher status (QTS) here at Edge Hill University, graduating in 2017. Now teaching at a high school in Leigh, Greater Manchester – and the face of the Government’s new Get Into Teaching campaign (video below), we caught up with Addison to find out how he’s finding life in the classroom.

Name: Addison Brown
Age: ​27
Hometown: Stoke-on-Trent
Subject: Biology

I love my subject and have always enjoyed working with children. I feel I can make a difference. My mum’s a teacher and has always been enthusiastic about teaching, and my sports coaches as a kid showed me that working with children is really fulfilling.

Teaching has its downsides, but the positives are amazing, and every day something will happen that makes you think it’s worth it and it’s an amazing job

Edge Hill was exactly what I needed to become a teacher: the right balance of time in school and University, as well as providing an awareness of the reality behind teaching.

At school I was a typical boy. I had the ability, and my behaviour was good. I’ve always been very competitive, but unless challenged in a lesson I would only do just enough to scrape by. So I feel I can relate to a majority of students and this allows me (hopefully) to connect, make good relationships and bring out the best in children.

I remember being very nervous on my first day on placement in a school. Despite the fact I’d been teaching swimming and water polo to 30+ kids, there definitely seemed to be feelings of anxiety. Most people would agree that talking to a room full of very honest teenagers is a daunting task. You find a way to drive on, though.

I love my mornings. If my six-month old baby allows, I try to be in quite early. This allows me to come in, flick on the lights, get Spotify on, mark for an hour, then make sure I’m all prepped for the day. More work in the morning means less work at night.

I learn from my pupils all the time, and not necessarily about my subject. You learn about kids and their different backgrounds and the ways they approach various challenges in their day-to-day life. And even though I’m only 27 you definitely start feeling old when your students have to explain new trends, words and ways of the world.

I’ve embarrassed myself in front of my pupils loads of times. But it actually helps build relationships with students because they realise that you are actually human. Whether it’s walking into stuff or a slip of the tongue. Many science words can easily sound like something the kids find hilarious, and if you’ve taught a few too many times in a week your brain can slip up.

The hardest part of the job for me is whether I’ve given enough attention to every member of the class. Not just the really clever ones, or the really naughty ones, but the ones who sit and do everything you ask but may not fully understand. The most rewarding is the light bulb moment when things click and students get what you’ve been doing, as well as simple thank yous and opening doors, acting like polite and mature students.

A good teacher… works hard for every student and remembers that children have a reason for everything. Behind every act of defiance is a kid who may have real, serious issues outside of school. School is a safe place in a child’s life, where everyone is honestly wanting the best for them. You’re not always making the scientists, scholars, doctors, engineers of tomorrow, but you are making young adults who can enter the world with resilience and manners.