In this assembly Brian Radcliffe invites students to consider how they might influence the upcoming general election, despite their young age

Engagement

[Choose the appropriate tense for the Readers’ comments, depending on the Key Stage addressed in the assembly]

Leader: On Thursday May 6th a crucial event in the life of our country will take place. Millions of people will go to ballot boxes in churches, schools, community halls and other venues to vote in a new government. Yet I suspect that, for many of you in this assembly, the event will simply pass you by.

Reader 1: At the age of 12 I am [was] old enough to see a 12A certificate film, and am [was] even allowed to babysit for family and friends. But…
(Pause)
…I’m not [I wasn’t] old enough to vote in a General Election.

Reader 2: At the age of 13 I am [was] old enough to officially have my own page on Facebook or Bebo. But…
(Pause)
…I’m not [I wasn’t] old enough to vote in a General Election.

Reader 3: At the age of 16 I am [was] old enough to join the army or to get married (with the permission of my parents or guardians of course). I can [could] even buy beer or cider to drink with a meal. But…
(Pause)
…I’m not [I wasn’t] old enough to vote in a General Election.

Reader 4: At the age of 17 I am [was] old enough to drive a car. But…
(Pause)
…I’m not [I wasn’t] old enough to vote in a General Election.

Readers 1, 2, 3 and 4: (Together) This election’s got nothing to do with us.

Reflection

Leader: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says (among many other important statements) that you have the right to say what you think and have your opinion taken into account when decisions are being taken that affect your life.

That means not sitting silently and allowing adults to take decisions on your behalf without consulting you. You have a right to make your views and feelings known.

So what are the issues that affect your life? Obviously, in the school context in which we find ourselves today, there are many issues concerning your education. You probably have views on the quality of teaching skills you meet here, the standard of the buildings you learn in, the range of facilities and the size of classes. All these are relevant to the general election. You’re also all part of a local community. How do you feel about the way the local council spends the money raised from taxes and rates? Is enough spent on sports and leisure facilities or public transport? You use hospitals and GP surgeries whenever you’re ill. How long do you usually have to wait for an appointment? What about issues such as drugs, alcohol, family support and relationships between young people and the local police? These are exactly the issues being debated by politicians.

Taking things a step further – do you have opinions about the way elderly people, vulnerable people, the poor and the disadvantaged are treated? Do you sometimes want to take a stand about injustice throughout the world? All these are issues that are being debated in the run up to the general election.

(Pause)

And yet, because you aren’t old enough to vote, it would be so easy for you let this election pass you by.

I’d like to suggest that you have a very important role to play over the next few weeks. I think you could be very good at this role because you have the time and the skills to make those adults who will be voting think very carefully about what they might do. I want to suggest that you spend your time asking them three simple questions:

First, ask them whether they are planning to vote. If they say “Yes” then congratulate them for using their democratic right. If they say “No” then ask them (politely) to explain why not. Most of them will find it very hard to explain. The result may be that some change their mind and do vote because you’ve encouraged them to do so. Democracy needs everyone to exercise their right to vote.

Second, ask them to explain how they decide who to vote for. They may tell you about a local candidate they admire. They may say they’re voting for the person they’d most like as Prime Minister. They may say they’ve always voted for a particular party. Different people have different reasons.

Finally, ask them to describe how their vote is going to help children and young people just like you. Encourage them to think beyond their own personal advantage.

What’s the point in you playing this role? It means that you will be encouraging the 18s and over to take seriously how they place their vote. You may be helping them to focus on what is important. Explaining simply to you may help clarify what can be complicated and confusing issues.

Response

Leader: So how many people can you approach with your three questions? Why not start with teachers and other members of staff. Then there are the members of Year 13 who have reached the important age of 18. When you go home there are your parents and guardians, your grandparents, aunties and uncles, your neighbours, your sports team managers – the list is endless!

Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.

Dear GodThank you for the freedom that we have as we live in a democratic society where every adult’s vote counts.May we each play an active role in making sure that every vote that’s cast at the ballot box is a thoughtful vote.May we who are young play our part in posing the important questions, and in looking forward to the time when we also can vote.

Amen

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2010

About the author: Brian Radcliffe

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