Over 100 students gathered at Stafford College on Friday to quiz Stafford parliamentary candidates, Jeremy Lefroy for the Conservative Party and Kate Godfrey for the Labour Party.

The political debate signified the launch of the colleges own debating society which was announced by Chris Clifford, director of business development and marketing at Stafford College. “I feel it is important students get the opportunity to ask the questions that are important to them in a safe environment.” Questions were opened up to the floor with the candidates each offered a five minute period in which to answer.

With politicians becoming more and more aware of a need to actively engage with young voters, both Godfrey and Lefroy kicked off their opening comments by thanking the college for organising the event.

When asked about young people and politics, Mr Lefroy expressed his desire to see the legal voting age reduced to 16, following in the footsteps of the Scottish Referendum as well as a need for politicians to start engaging with young people at a much earlier age.

“By the time people get to secondary education and college, they become disillusioned; they think there is nothing in politics for them. I am delighted that we have this debating society and I would like to see much more accountability but I think we need to have politics where we aren’t just targeting individual groups – we are one country and we need to work for the good of everybody.”

Students were keen to quiz the candidates on their policies surrounding student funding. “I think what Stafford College does is amazing,” said Miss Godfrey. “Especially in terms of the way they break up the way you can study, trying to sort out paid apprenticeships, trying to make sure there are lots of opportunities so you don’t have to pick between your education and your ability to support yourself.”

Students were also keen to hear the candidates’ opinions on vocational education as a viable pathway to university and success. Kate Godfrey praised the college, describing it as a “flagship for vocational courses” and the methods that are used by the college should be rolled out across the country by a Labour government.

Mr Lefroy went on to say, “I witnessed the launch of the risual academy and the Rugby Academy. Our government has seen a rise in apprenticeships to more than two million in the last five years and we want to increase that to three million in the next five years.

“I think there is a real problem with careers education,” said Mr Lefroy “In this country we simply do not take it seriously enough. We should be talking about this in primary school, certainly by Year 6. We need to be engaging with young people at a much earlier age about career choices – both in the way they go about it, through an apprenticeship or university degree, whether or not to do A Levels and what are the alternatives.”

Miss Godfrey said; “One of the most exciting things that has happened in Britain over the last ten years is that we have moved back from that static structure of doing A Levels, going to university and then you work out how to apply that knowledge. If I was doing it now, I would have gone through the vocational route.”

Following the discussion, 18 year old Jack Trubshaw, moderator for the debating society, said “I think it went really well – we were able to bring some really important issues forward. Sometimes they tried to deflect the answers but overall it has been a really good opportunity and it was fantastic to see so many students come and take part – I just hope they all now feel inspired to vote.”

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