Students encourage debate on referendum

A group of Ponteland High School students who campaigned during its mock EU referendum.
A group of Ponteland High School students who campaigned during its mock EU referendum.
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Students from Ponteland High School’s Sixth Form held their own mock European Union (EU) referendum in a bid to get more young people involved in the debate.

The UK referendum to decide whether Britain should leave or remain in the EU will take place on Thursday, June 23, and a point that the teenagers from both sides of the argument made was that young people will be affected the most by the outcome.

The campaign began with pitches by both sides to Year 9, 10 and 11 pupils during assemblies and they also spoke more in depth with groups of younger students about the benefits of staying in and of leaving the union.

Year 12 students David Johnson, Oliver Jennings, Dan Wright and Chloe Bland led the leave campaign.

They argued strongly that the Government’s use of taxpayers’ money to fund information booklets was ‘irresponsible’ and the UK economy could thrive outside the bureaucratic stranglehold of the EU.

On the other side of the argument, Year 13 student Elliot Barker added a personal touch to his speeches by explaining the reasoning behind changing his mind on the issue.

This included meeting and working with people from 35 different European countries as a UK representative on the European Youth Parliament.

The remain campaign was also quick to point out the overwhelming number of economic institutions supporting staying in the EU. The campaign ended with a debate held in front of Sixth Form students. Michael Dwyer, Molly Hall, Ben Eggleston and Owen Stratford argued in favour of staying in the EU and the aforementioned Year 12 students spoke in opposition.

Both sides displayed passion and eloquence in what was a fascinating and informative exchange of opinions.

When it came to the school vote, the remain side was victorious with 73 per cent of the votes cast.

Molly said: “I wanted to help raise awareness about the referendum, as the majority of Year 13 can vote in the UK referendum and I believe everyone should have enough information and interest to make an informed decision.

“But primarily, I wanted students to see the enormous benefit we have by being part of the European Union.

“Personally, I’m going to be studying languages next year at university and the EU is clearly a great platform for students to easily work, travel and live across Europe – the best ways to learn a language.”

The students campaigning to leave the EU said in a joint statement: “We anticipated an uphill battle, rightly so, considering the vast majority of the school seemed to have already had their hearts set on a pro-European agenda.

“However, this motivated us to prepare very thoroughly in order to provide the best chance of turning as many europhile minds into eurosceptics as possible.

“Over the course of the last fortnight, we have learnt that it may not matter how many facts you preach, it’s the winning over of the hearts and minds from the once supporters of your rivals that really counts and I believe after slight alterations to our campaign, we achieved this much.”

Julie Hall, acting head of modern foreign languages and campaign organiser, said that schools have a responsibility to help young people see that they are the decision makers of the future.

She added: “I hoped this event would encourage students to understand that political decisions being made now will have a direct impact on their lives and opportunities as they leave school, and that therefore they need to be aware of what’s going on around them in the world in terms of current affairs.”