THE Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) is calling for 16 and 17-year-olds to be given a vote in the forthcoming General Election.

A staggering 80,147 votes were cast in the SYP’s recent elections, proving now more than ever that the young people of Scotland value democracy and their right to be heard.

SYP’s elections, which ran from March 3-17, 2017, saw 315 young people from across Scotland stand for election to represent their constituency or national voluntary organisation in Parliament. The successful candidates will take up their posts in June when they officially become MSYPs, serving as the democratically-elected voice of Scotland’s youth.

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With the announcement earlier this week that a General Election will be held on June 8, SYP has renewed its call for 16 and 17-year-olds to be given the right to vote, believing that SYP’s excellent turnout is proof young people are not only motivated to shape their own futures through the democratic process, but deeply value this process and the responsibilities it carries.

SYP chair, Terri Smith, said: “The fact over 80,000 votes were cast in our recent elections is irrefutable proof that the young people of Scotland are more engaged in the democratic process than ever. To deny 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the upcoming General Election is quite simply wrong.

“While we were delighted that voting rights were extended to 16 and 17-year-olds in Scottish Parliament and local government elections, as well as in the Scottish independence referendum, we believe this right must be extended to all 16 and 17-year-olds, not just in Scotland but across the UK.”

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PUPILS WITH ADDITIONAL SUPPORT NEEDS MUST COME FIRST 

Every fortnight in The National, readers get an insight into the workings of the Scottish Youth Parliament, and learn all about what the elected members are up to and the issues that matter to our young people. The third column from our panel of eight representatives is by Aqeel Ahmed, 18, MSYP for Glasgow Pollok.

IF we are serious about closing the attainment gap, why is the number of Additional Support Needs teachers going down, while the number of students with additional support needs is going up?

Additional support for learning is just what it sounds like – it is about ensuring that every child or young person has the additional support they might need in school. This could be short-term or long-term support, and support could be needed due to a variety of different reasons. In Scotland, most recent figures show that 170,329 children and young people have additional support needs with 162,034 in mainstream schools. That works out to nearly 25 per cent of children and young people requiring that bit of extra and valuable support.

As a visually impaired young person, I know how additional high-quality support has helped put me on an even playing field with my peers, and ensured that I was able to get the most out of my education. Having specialist teachers and support staff there for me is something I will be always grateful for. Therefore, it worries me that Scottish schools have seen a drastic fall in the number of specialist support staff. Most recent figures show that Additional Support Needs teacher numbers have fallen by 13 per cent between 2010 and 2014, while overall teacher numbers fell 2.3 per cent over the same period. This is despite the fact that the number of young people requiring additional support has risen by 98,523.

I am the Convener of the Scottish Youth Parliament’s Education and Lifelong Learning Committee, and we have been doing a lot of work on this topic. Our own research and consultation work shows that young people aren’t getting help straight away because of a lack of staff, while staff themselves feel shortages are putting strain on their work and risking the best outcomes for young people with additional support needs. We cannot expect our teachers to deliver the best learning and teaching to vulnerable young people if they themselves feel stressed and under-resourced.

I have experience working in a primary school in which many young people had additional support needs, including those with visual impairments, and autism. It was challenging at times but unquestionably rewarding, and was a driving force behind my decision to study to become a teacher. What hit me hard was the fact that the school valued my input, particularly with regard to providing support to these young people. I was providing support which had previously not been there for them.

I urge the Scottish Government, local authorities, education partners and all who work with young people with additional support needs to please incorporate and take into full account these 170,329 young people when it comes to attainment-related discussions and decisions.

It is in our best interests to not let this significant cohort of young people miss out. These are young people with potential, young people with aspirations, and most of all young people who have a right to a learning and teaching process that suits them best.