Green Party leader Natalie Bennett: ‘Hampstead school visit showed why 16 year olds should be given the vote’
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said 16 year olds should be given the vote after meeting schoolchildren in Hampstead.
She was the first guest speaker at a newly-formed political society at University College School.
The society, named “The Left”, was founded by two Year 9 pupils, Ben Reiner and Geno Rucklin-Asher, with the aim of encouraging political debate within the school.
Ben, who is 13, said: “This is a very expensive private school, and I think a lot of people just take on their parents’ views of politics.
“I’m left-leaning myself, and yes, I’ve been influenced a lot by my mum.
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“But we started the society to challenge pupils and to get them more involved in thinking about politics from a younger age.”
Geno, also aged 13, said he thought all schools should do more to increase awareness of politics amongst pupils.
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He said: “This is a really good school, and we’ve had things like mock elections in May, but we don’t actually get to study politics until the Sixth Form.
“I think all schools should make sure pupils are educated about politics, because when you think about it, politics affects us all throughout our lives.”
Ms Bennett said she was impressed with the level of attendance at the lunchtime talk, and by the degree of knowledge demonstrated by the pupils, who quizzed her on a wide range of subjects, including proportional representation, Jeremy Corbyn, tuition fees, tax credits, the Lords, Israel and nuclear energy.
She said: “I think it just shows why 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote here, as they are in Scotland.
“Whenever I go into schools, I find that many pupils are very engaged with politics and more knowledgeable than people realise.
“Young people are very concerned with things such as tuition fees and environmental issues, and it’s time they had their say at 16.”
Head of politics Jacquline Heaton said she was delighted that the pupils had set up the society entirely of their own accord.
She said: “When you think they’re only in year nine, it’s an impressive achievement that they’ve taken the initiative and invited high profile speakers like Natalie without any help.
“They don’t formally study politics in school until A-Level, although it’s taught through various other subjects like history, so it’s great to see such a level of interest and a packed room today.”
Ms Heaton said she wasn’t particularly surprised that a society called “The Left” was proving popular in the prestigious school, where full fees are £6,142 per term.
She said: “You’ve heard of Hampstead socialism.
“It’s alive and well here, and I think the pupils have a range of views.
“They may be from mainly affluent backgrounds, but that doesn’t mean they are not concerned about those who are less fortunate.”
Future speakers lined up to address the school society include Cambridge Professor Andrew Gamble and writer Will Hutton.