In the preparation for the general election, and as a means of raising student awareness of current issues, our School Council, working closely with the history department, organised our own election.
Building on the successes of 2010, 2015 and 2017 and the referendum of 2016 we organised an election debate.
Volunteers were sought from Year 12 and Year 13 students to speak in the debate , and these brave volunteers were coached by members of the history department before the debate took place.
In order to give this debate maximum impact, it was arranged during lesson time in the assembly hall, and form tutors were asked to nominate or seek up to four volunteers from their form. This created an audience of approximately 200 students across the full age and ability range.
Our debate was chaired by Orla Cotgrave, Chair of School Council Executive, 2019-2020.
Each party had two speakers and they spoke in alphabetical order of the parties, with Brexit Party going first.
The speakers delivered their speeches very clearly and had benefited from the coaching provided. Once the speeches were over we had a question-and-answer session for the remainder of the time. The number of students wanting to ask questions was phenomenal, and unfortunately not all questions were taken due to the time available. The questions were varied. Some were directed at specific speakers and others were directed at the panel as a whole. There was a question from a Year 11 student regarding climate change. A Year 10 student challenged the Conservative speaker about Boris Johnson’s infamous reference to Muslim ladies wearing a bourka. The Labour speaker was pressed regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged association with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and the IRA. The best question of the session came from a Year 9 student who pressed the Conservative speaker blaming David Cameron, the former party leader and Prime Minister, for calling a referendum in the first place when there was no need, and holding them responsible for the predicament the country was in over Brexit.
The speakers acquitted themselves very well when answering these questions, and there was also some well intentioned banter between the candidates.
The speeches and the Q&A session were recorded and then integrated into Form Time News, our weekly current affairs input into our PSHE programme, which is written and produced by Mr Breakwell. On the day of the election there was no assembly and every class in the school had the opportunity of watching the debate, going through Form Time News and then having a vote.
This year we were ambitious in that we gave the students two chances of voting, by the regular First Past The Post system, and also by using a proportional representation (PR) system called Single Transferable Vote. This will be of interest to our history students as PR contributed to the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1920/30s Germany, and also to A level historians as it features on their syllabus Modern Britain 1951-64.
A group of Sixth Form students enthusiastically assisted staff in the counting and checking of results. The initial First Past The Post ballot result was announced to the school over the PA system at 2.50pm in the afternoon, amid cheers of triumph and derision, depending on the personal view of the indivudal student. The PR vote took longer to finalise. The results were as follows:
First Past The Post
|STM % vote 2017||STM % vote 2019||National % 2019|
So in school although the Labour and Green vote remained solid, there was clearly a 9% swing towards the Conservatives, and this swing was reflected nationally resulting in their landslide victory.
The reason why we held a ballot using PR was because of the significance of PR as a system of voting historically. There are a variety of ways of using PR, and we chose to use the Single Transferable Vote whereby voters cast their votes in order of preference. The aim is for a party to win a majority of 51% of the votes cast. If no party achieves this then the votes of the least popular party are transferred to the voters’ second preference until such a time as the 51% target is reached.
Single Transferable Vote
As one would expect the result of the single transferable vote ballot was always going to be similar to the first past the post ballot, and because the Labour party scored 671 votes (65% of votes cast) there was no need to transfer the votes as the 51% was achieved at the first count.
Nevertheless, PR is likely to be on the political agenda again and even though it had no impact on the St Thomas More election result, had it been used nationally it certainly would have. It has been calculated that had PR been used in the general election then the LIB Dems would have 70 MPs instead of their miserly 13, and that overall there would have been another hung parliament as the Conservatives would have won only 288 seats but they would have been able to form a government as they would have been the largest party in parliament (Source: Electoral Reform Society).
The STM election was a resounding success, and numerous staff reported how the students were fully engaged in the process and thoroughly enjoyed watching our election debate. I would like to thank all staff for their support in making this event so successful. Special thanks to Mr Breakwell and Mrs Richards for the coordinated efforts in producing Form Time News, and of course our candidates who bravely volunteered to speak in the debate.
We may have future MPs in our midst!