We had the first of our special election assemblies last week for the sixth form, when Greg Clark, the Conservative candidate for Tunbridge Wells (and current MP) came in to talk to students and take questions. Their response was lively, and they kept up a good level of questioning for the time allocated. Many of the questions were about funding and support of students and universities, issues close to their hearts, but there were other wider questions too. Tomorrow, Monday, it is the Labour candidate’s turn. The Green and Liberal Democrat candidates are booked in for Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
There is more interest in the forthcoming election amongst students than I think there has been in the past. This is perhaps partly because the result does not seem a foregone conclusion to them. It could go more than one way. Undoubtedly, the TV ‘debates’ have engendered interest too. As a concept they are a mixed blessing, I think. Of course, it’s good that more people are engaged with the election and the political process. That’s good for democracy and good for participation. But there is also a danger of ‘dumbing down’ – making a general election fit the expectations of a reality TV show – X Factor or, dare I say it, choosing the next Dorothy! We will need to work hard to get students beyond the superficials and get them into policy and underpinning vision for society.
And, of course, we will try to get them to ask themselves the question: What role does my faith play in my decision on how to vote? Issues like nuclear deterrence, the environment, Afghanistan etc are obvious ones to think about in this light. But there is also the degree to which the various parties value the contribution of Churches to society, create an atmosphere of respect for faith and people of faith, support Church schools, and ensure that there is the right balance on the one hand of freedom for religious groups and on the other fairness for all members of society. There are no simple answers here, but these are questions we will do what we can to get students to reflect on and reach principled decisions on.
We have sixth form ‘candidates’ for each of the main parties who are presenting their party’s policies to younger students in the run-up to the in-school election on May 6th. They are doing a brilliant job – they are learning the lesson which politicians have to learn, that it is not always easy to present unpopular policies or to stick to the ‘party line’ when under attack.
This week sees the annual round of appeals for places at Bennett by those parents who were not successful in getting their child in first time round. Although it is a great sign of the school’s continued popularity that there are still so many appeals, the process, as anyone will know who has been through it, is gruelling for parents who are simply trying to do the best thing for their child. Bennett has grown by about 40% in size in the decade or so I have been here. It is a thriving school, and is not too large currently, but there has to be a limit somewhere. That doesn’t mean much though to an individual parent – the argument is always ’surely one more child won’t make any difference’ !
What a bonus last week’s wonderful weather was. The school field is bone dry and was available for all students to use at lunchtimes.