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MPs

Should younger teenagers get the vote?

As I watch BBC’s Question Time tonight, I rejoice in an audience packed with young people.

These days that’s a great sight to see – many young people taking part in the country’s top political discussion programme. Politics frankly is such a turn-off to most young people today.

I’ve always thought my children know a lot about politics as we discuss issues at home frequently. My smugness about this was quickly dispersed this week when one of my children asked me first – what is democracy? And second – how do you get to become an MP? The fact was that she hadn’t even grasped the one key feature in the answer to both of these questions – the vote.

What messages have your family given you about voting?

What messages have your family given you about voting?

I have always voted – I’m not going to tell you who I’ve voted for, except to say I’ve not always voted for the same political party. I was brought up in a family where it would have been absolutely scandalous not to use that right. The view was always – don’t complain about the government if you’ve not bothered to cast your vote.

My grandad, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 88, went further. He used to tell me that people died for the vote for women and we should honour that fact. He lived through times of political turmoil and horror – WW1, the 1926 General Strike and WW2. He worked in a dangerous and vital industry – coal mining. He was a big, generous-hearted, hard drinking man who could barely read. But it was him who took his bass drum around the local villages in Somerset to let them know that WW2 was over. (His drum is now in Radstock Museum).

Back to the vote. I don’t live in Somerset any more but my adopted home of Wiltshire boasts a proud heritage around the suffragettes who marched through Marlborough. One of the leading suffragettes, Edith New, was a school teacher from Swindon. She was the first person to protest by chaining herself to railings. She went to prison and went on hunger strike to defend her beliefs.

Scotland is allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote when residents vote for or against independence next year. I think this is a good thing – capturing people’s imagination over politics as early as possible is important. I have some suspicion about why this is going to happen – is it because the Scottish government really want more people to vote or do they hope it will swing the vote one way or the other? Maybe that’s just the cynic in me.

We’ll see. However the day that anyone aged 16 or over can be represented will be a good day for democracy.

 

 

A levels – isn’t it wonderful that teenagers will pass or fail in three hours?

The Government has announced A levels are changing. Qualifications will now be based solely upon the ability to pass or fail within a three-hour window of time after two years’ of study.

A mum's view of changes to the A level

The Government wants students to pass A levels through examination only.

When I’m writing for anyone else, I would write about this dispassionately, reporting the matter and canvassing the points of view of others. However, here in my blogging space I can talk as an ex-A level student and as a mother of a teenager.

For me this decision is a dreadful backward step.

 

Let’s not sugar coat this – it’s also a way of lowering the number of people who go into higher education.

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw on Facebook this week, shared by a teacher, showing various animals standing in front of a desk where a teacher was telling them that their pass depended on their ability to climb the tree behind them. The animals included a monkey, an elephant, a bird, a fish….you get the idea. It sweetly encapsulated the problems of examinations when I was doing my O and A levels in the 1980s.

The truth is, we are not all the same and we excel in different areas and that’s how life is. I firmly believe the pressure of an examination is good and I advocate them – but I also believe equal weight should go to course work over the years which shows a level of consistency of achievement, or not, as the case may be.

For me that’s a fairer reflection of someone’s true ability. 

 

In my days  in the sixth form, I loved my studies and I worked very hard. I consistently got As and Bs in my work and that was the expectation for my final examinations. But I knew I wasn’t good at examinations. I found the pressure difficult to manage, I found revision overhwhelming, trying to cover everything all of the time. I didn’t know where to start and went for a scattergun approach. It didn’t work.

My fears were realised when I just about scraped through my A levels. I didn’t fail but I didn’t do well enough to go to a university in the country at that time.

Ironically there was an examination at that time called an S level – higher than an A level. It was in English literature and involved three questions, and you could take texts in with you. I was the only one in my school who took it, a week after all the other examinations had finished. Everyone was demob happy and I still had another exam to do.

Armed with my Complete Works of Shakespeare and Complete Works of Chaucer, I didn’t worry about that one, because I could take the texts in and I knew I could find quotations really quickly. Got a distinction in that exam – with a D in the A level itself.

I did a degree at a college of higher education where coursework counted towards your final result and I did learn how to revise more effectively. But from then on, any test or examination I have done, has involved assessment on the job alongside high pressure tests. For me, that’s more real.

I have a daughter who is like me. I can now see myself reflected in the way she studies and I’m trying to help her be more effective than me. It pains me to think that she may, just may, be disadvantaged in 2018 if she goes on to do A levels. Will she, like me, fail to deliver because her opportunity will come and go within three hours?

What kind of message does this give our children?

 

The Budget – what do journalists think?

It’s Budget Day – a day when some journalists groan and yawn and others get all flustered with excitement.

If you are producing a programme, especially a debate about the Budget or an impending Budget, the hardest job is to find participants. And that should ring all sorts of bells for anyone in business. It’s a wonderful time to set yourself up as a commentator on a topical issue – if you’ve got the courage.

Today, I’ve only got to look at my Twitter feed to see who’s been commentating both locally and nationally. Have a look at your own Twitter feed and you’ll see. I’ve got MPs all saying what you would expect according to their political allegiances, individuals like Martin Lewis, voluntary sector groups like the CAB, campaigning groups like Gransnet, other journalists etc.

If you think you’ve not got the courage to contact your local media outlets eg. newspapers, television or radio and offer to be a commentator for your sector , then engage on Twitter or Facebook because then you’ll get into conversations with interesting people who may be interested in you in the future. Remember, whatever someone’s perspective, they are still human beings, often with families, or savings, or expenses, or debts and the Budget affects them as personally as you. Today is a perfect opportunity for some PR on a day when people want to talk. At the time of writing Granny Tax was trending on Twitter. And if that’s not enough, it’s a day when you can be ‘topical’ and relevant. Look at who’s talking and follow those people or groups who interest you – some will follow you back. Make the Budget work for you, even if it doesn’t work for you (you know what I mean).

Enough of the rant, this wasn’t at all what I wanted to blog about really. But I’ll save that for later – (another moan about the absurdities of our current health provision in Swindon.)

 

Better off? Or worried about extra costs?

What does the budget mean to me – as a working mum with three kids and a husband who is, luckily, working? Well, I won’t have to pay tax until I’ve earned a bit more, I don’t earn over £150,000 a year so the cut in top rate of tax will not affect me in fact barely anyone that I know. I’m not a pensioner but my mum and parents-in-law are – so I’m worried for them as they live on a very fixed income. It’s possible that we might keep child benefit which is great. I had accepted we would lose it but felt that we’d have to deal with that, but I did feel cross that some families with a greater household income would keep it. If that anomaly has been overcome, then for me child benefit should be reserved for those in most need.

My concerns relate to the more vulnerable in our society. People who are disabled, by physical or mental issues, those who have chronic illness, those who are carers, and so on. Also I’m not clear on how the Budget is going to stimulate economic growth – I don’t mind being put right, being contradicted, being corrected. But I just don’t buy the argument that those who earn what to me is mega money – will not fleece the system if the tax rate is lowered. They’ll do it any way if they can. Wouldn’t you?

Share your views? Go on…..

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