Stu­dents find it’s good to talk at great de­bate on big is­sues of the day

Solihull News - - NEWS - DAVID IR­WIN Lo­cal Democ­racy Re­porter

THE seats of Soli­hull’s coun­cil cham­ber were given over to a rather younger crowd than usual, when the venue hosted its in­au­gu­ral sixth form de­bat­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

Teams of teenagers from around the bor­ough wres­tled with ques­tions in­clud­ing whether to make vot­ing com­pul­sory and if so­cial me­dia was an ef­fec­tive plat­form for po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion.

In the grand fi­nal, last Fri­day af­ter­noon, stu­dents locked horns over one of the most vex­ing ques­tions fac­ing politi­cians to­day – should Bri­tain have a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on Brexit?

Soli­hull School edged John Henry New­man Catholic Col­lege to win the de­cid­ing clash and clinch the ti­tle in what is hoped will be­come an an­nual com­pe­ti­tion.

The con­test was or­gan­ised by the coun­cil to co­in­cide with Lo­cal Democ­racy Week and aimed to en­gage young peo­ple in some of the real- life de­bates rag­ing in the cor­ri­dors of power, which could have im­pli­ca­tions for decades to come. The win­ning team were Thomas Wil­liams, aged 17, Oliver Rooney, 17, and Georgina Hart, 16, who said they spent a lunchtime each week pre­par­ing their ar­gu­ments and dis­cussing ideas.

One of the is­sues dealt with ear­lier in the af­ter­noon was whether the vot­ing age should be re­duced, with more than a mil­lion 16 to 17- year- olds cur­rently un­able to cast a bal­lot pa­per. Did the team think it would make a dif­fer­ence?

“I don’t think it would have as big an im­pact as peo­ple would think but it does seem log­i­cal,” said Oliver.

“Be­cause where it’s hap­pened in coun­tries it’s been re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful and cer­tainly gets peo­ple in­volved from a young age and pos­si­bly it’s go­ing to make them more likely to vote for the rest of their lives.”

The group were also asked how im­por­tant they thought it was for peo­ple of their age- group to get in­volved in the types of dis­cus­sions to have taken place in the cham­ber.

Georgina said: “I think it’s quite im­por- tant that young peo­ple en­gage more in pol­i­tics be­cause it does af­fect us and it will af­fect us more.

“Es­pe­cially when you look at things like Brexit and that’s our fu­ture, so I think it’s im­por­tant that we all know what’s go­ing on and we’re more likely to be po­lit­i­cally en­gaged in the fu­ture.

“I think also we need a fresh per­spec­tive on things.”

Baroness Lorely Burt, Soli­hull’s for­mer MP and a mem­ber of the de­bate’s judg­ing panel, said it was hugely im­por­tant that this age group had their say.

“What heart­ened me from the de­bate is the pas­sion that the young peo­ple felt.”

She be­lieved that their gen­er­a­tion had switched on to is­sues as a re­sult of re­cent events.

“The Brexit ref­er­en­dum made them re­alise that there’s a lot at stake,” she said.

Cer­tifi­cates were pre­sented to all the teams who took part by Soli­hull Mayor Flo Nash, and Soli­hull’s cur­rent MP, Ju­lian Knight.

The win­ners re­ceived a shield which they will hold un­til the next de­bate.

Soli­hull Schools de­bat­ing team Oliver Rooney, Thomas Wil­liams and Georgina Hart, with the Mayor of Soli­hull, Flo Nash, Baroness Lorely Burt, Councillor Andy Mack­iewicz and Phil Leivers, the coun­cil’s as­sis­tant direc­tor for learn­ing and achieve­ment

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