Citizenship fails to shift voting age

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Poor teaching of citizenship has been blamed for a proposal that the voting age remain at 18.

The Electoral Commission, which is answerable to Parliament, recommended this week that the age at which people can stand for Parliament should be lowered from 21 to 18. But, it said, the voting age should remain at 18.

Its conclusion is seen as a set-back for ministers David Miliband and Stephen Twigg, who have called for it to be lowered to increase teenagers'

interest in politics. Next week, Mr Twigg will send guidance to schools recommending that they do more to involve pupils in running schools.

The commission report devoted a chapter to citizenship lessons, which have been compulsory in secondary schools since September 2002. It said: "There is some logic in the argument that enforcing a gap of two or more years between the end of compulsory citizenship education and the right to exercise some of the most fundamental citizen's rights in democracy may be counter-productive and even encourage disaffection from the democratic process.

"However, this argument is predicated on citizenship education being universal and effective in the first place."

The commission said its research and reports by bodies including the Office for Standards in Education, suggested that citizenship was too patchy in quality and "still very much in infancy".

But it strongly supported the principle of citizenship education and felt that there might be an argument for reconsidering votes at 16 if it ever fulfilled its potential.

Guidance will be sent to schools next week urging them to involve pupils more in decision-making by setting up student councils or similar schemes.

More than 90 per cent of secondary schools have established school councils, but only around half of primary schools have them.

In his introduction to the guidance, Mr Twigg writes: "We want to encourage a cultural shift to ensure that children and young people can play their full role in the processes which are the bed-rock of our democratic life."

The UK Youth Parliament said it was bitterly disappointed by the commission's recommendations. "It is hugely hypocritical that young people are made to study citizenship until they are 16 and then can't vote," a spokesman said.

Teacher magazine 12 Age of electoral majority is at www.electoralcommission.gov.ukWorking together: giving children and young people a say is at www.dfes.gov.ukparticipationguidance

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