Why voting matters

As the nation prepares to go to the polls, there is a huge range of different emotions swirling around. Some are engaged and excited, others angry and ready for action but sadly all too many are switched off and disinterested. In an election which has been described as too close to call, exercising our democratic right to vote has never been more important. On Thursday, many of our Sixth Form girls will for the first time be able to do something which could help shape the future of their country and we will be urging every single one of them to use their vote.

Alongside the General Election, all the girls are currently taking part in a vote here in school – along with staff – to nominate which party they would like to see win the election.

At a girls’ school it is perhaps even more important than elsewhere for us to involve our pupils in the political process. A hundred years ago – when this very school was being founded – women did not have the right to vote. A number of courageous women were fighting against this. They chained themselves to fences, set fire to mailboxes and smashed windows, along with more peaceful methods of protest. For their efforts they were imprisoned, denied their rights as political prisoners and force fed. One died under the King’s horse at Epsom Derby. Headington has direct links to the Suffragette movement through one of its foremost figures, Christabel Pankhurst. She sent her adopted daughter Aurea Clifford to the School in 1929.

I believe we have a huge responsibility to ensure our girls understand the importance of voting as well as the history behind it. Politics may seem dull and dusty but it affects every single aspect of these girls’ lives. For our first-time voters at Headington this might be the tuition fees they will have to pay at university, the availability of apprenticeships, the help they could expect getting on to the housing ladder. As an independent school, we are thankfully in some measure free from the capricious nature of changing political policy but top-down government educational initiatives, for example the uncoupling of the AS Level from the A Level, will have an impact.

Of course, getting girls interested in politics at 17 or 18 is far too late. We start the process much earlier. Already this year we have held a mock referendum on Scottish Independence and invited local candidates from all parties in to school. Over the past week girls have been running their own election campaigns. Each of our Lower Five classes, girls aged 14 and 15, has been assigned one of the main political parties to represent and produced a poster campaign, speech and video to promote their party before holding an election hustings event. I was very impressed with the research and efforts these young women had put in to their campaigns – even where they had been allocated a party which they might not have chosen for themselves. We will get our results as the general election results come in on Friday. This invites every girl to think about the issues and get involved in the political process.

I will be casting my vote on Thursday and I am confident that those girls in school who are eligible to do so will also be making their first visit to a polling booth.

 

Caroline Jordan, Headmistress, Headington School

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