According to an article in the Independent
of 7 June here a Labour government will lower the voting age to 16:
"Hundreds of thousands of teenagers would be enrolled each year [onto the electoral register] as part of a Labour constitutional reform package which includes lowering the voting age from 18 to 16."
"Under the plan, schools and colleges would be legally compelled to supply details of 16 and 17 year old students to electoral registration officers."
"Labour has also raised the idea of situating ballot boxes in schools and colleges on election days, and would encourage head teachers to increase the amount of time set aside for citizenship lessons."
This raises the question of how our schools should be properly preparing KS4 students to vote in local or national elections at any age.
The DfE school Performance tables now contain important extra data. ‘Average KS4 exam entries per pupil’ is one example. This is given for pupils designated Low, Middle and High attainment on entry in Y7 based on KS2 SATs levels. Low = less than L4, Middle = L4, High = L5 and above.
The following are the exam entries per pupil data, for KS2 SATs Low, Middle and High attainers for a real secondary school that was graded 'Outstanding' by OfSTED in its last inspection and which has been much praised by Michael Gove.
GCSE subjects only: less than L4 - 3.2, L4 - 6.0, L5+ - 8.6
Including equivalents: less than L4 - 15.2, L4 - 17.6, L5+ - 19.2
Consider an imaginary pupil, Janet, who entered this real school with SATs L3, and John who entered the school with SATs L4.
John finds himself predicted to get mainly C grades at GCSE, but Janet is predicted to get Ds and Es.
Regardless of Janet's employment prospects, unlike John; she is fairly likely to become a mother and if she does, she will be much more likely than her male partner to take the main caring role for her children. [Feminists please do not shoot the messenger.]
One of the statistical patterns with the strongest and most persistent predictive power is that which links the performance of children at school with the educational attainment of their mothers. As Vygotsky said, habits of mind are contagious; presumably none more so than in passing learning habits from parent to child.
So as far as the parental role is concerned, a broad and balanced education resulting in mainly D grade GCSEs is not so significantly worse than one that results in C grades, and is a lot better than a narrower curriculum diet of vocational equivalents
However it is catastrophically worse for the school.
But under a Labour government, both Janet and John will be registered to vote after their 16th birthdays. Leaving aside whether this would be a good thing or not, how should their school be preparing these two fictional young people to exercise their votes? Note that Labour is, quite rightly, not proposing to extend the franchise only to those with 5+A*-Cs including English and maths.
Although I greatly admire Janet Downs and usually agree with her, there is one issue on which I do not. Janet favours abolishing the national system of examinations at 16. I disagree. For me it should be the guarantor of a broad and balanced education for all pupils up to the age of 16.
Janet and John's school is forcing them to make curriculum choices at 14 that will deny Janet the curriculum she needs in order to inform her democratic voting choices. Being taught and entered for more than 15 undemanding vocational equivalents will not meet those needs. The Wolf Report was also clear that it wouldn't help her gain employment either.
However it does wonders for the school in terms of league tables and its OfSTED report.
There would indeed be a need for more school time for citizenship lessons. A sound grounding in 20th Century History would be essential for all students, alongside teaching the democratic structures of our country. I was 30 before I understood the differences between Borough/District and County Councils. Passing the 11+ helped me not at all.
This brings to mind the recent LSN debate about Henry's son's A Level history textbook here
. Eulogies to Margaret Thatcher or Harold Wilson would obviously be equally unacceptable. Which would create quite a challenge for keeping political bias out of our classrooms.
Quite a lot to think about here, but Labour's plans certainly make it ever more obvious that all school students of all abilities must receive their entitlement to a full, broad and balanced curriculum up to the age of 16, with all vocationally specific courses starting in Y12. It is about time Labour's education policies caught up.