FIRST-time voters at Matthew Arnold School quizzed speakers from four of the top political parties at a lively hustings event.
The sixth formers asked questions ranging from Brexit, to nursing staff salaries, university tuition fees and free schools.
The hustings at the school off Cumnor Hill was attended by Labour’s Tom Hayes, Conservative Matthew Barber, the Green Party’s Cheryl Briggs and Layla Moran of the Liberal Democrats.
Of the speakers, Ms Moran was the only parliamentary candidate in the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency – where the school is located – to attend.
Tracey Oakden, head of sixth form, told pupils: “For some of you this will be the first time you will have the opportunity to vote.
“Hopefully you will understand why it is so important that you do go out and vote for one of the political parties.”
Candidates clashed first over the subject of free schools.
One pupil asked whether they agreed with a committee of MPs, who noted that growing amounts of cash were going to free schools but existing schools were ‘struggling to live within their budgets’.
Mr Barber said the Conservatives had introduced free schools to improve choice for parents, particularly in areas where it had previously been poor.
He was asked whether it was right that existing schools were reducing subjects to cut costs while the free schools budget was expanded, with Ms Oakden noting free school places costed more on average.
Cost squeezes on schools were described as ‘diabolical’ by Ms Briggs.
The Green speaker said: “We should be spending more on education, not less.”
Labour’s Mr Hayes claimed free schools were ‘a joke’.
He said: “Are they good value for money? No. And are they getting improved outcomes? I would also say no.”
Ms Moran, speaking for the Lib Dems, claimed there was ‘overwhelming’ evidence that free schools did not improve standards.
She said: “They are not doing what they are meant to do. Meanwhile, because of the funding crisis, you guys at Matthew Arnold have already lost politics and computer science as subjects.”
Later on candidates were also asked about what they thought the impact of Brexit would be on pupils.
The Labour, Lib Dem and Green speakers all said it was a ‘disaster’, but Tory Mr Barber – who campaigned for Vote Leave – said it would mean Britain was free from the ‘failing’ and ‘inward-looking’ European Union.
“It seemed quite bias against the Conservative sometimes, because everyone was attacking him. But I quite liked the Lib Dem candidate.”
Rohan Haynes, 18
“I’m not sure who I’ll vote for yet, but probably the Conservatives. I just do not see how a lot of Labour’s policies work economically.”
Harry Bennett, 18
“I did seem like everyone was just attacking the Tory candidate at one point. A lot of the discussion was not really what I wanted to hear – we have heard enough about Brexit. I would have liked to hear more about foreign policy.”
Toby Baker, 18
“I’m frustrated Theresa May called this snap election because now I won’t be able to vote for another five years. I really would have liked to have been able to this time. On a local level I like Layla Moran but really I’m more of a Jeremy Corbyn supporter.”
Katy Yalci, 17
“I’d already decided I was probably going to vote tactically for the Lib Dems because the Greens aren’t standing here anymore. But I think Layla Moran actually made some really good points and seemed to know what she was talking about.”
Elspeth Horn, 18
“I really liked Layla Moran. I’m not in complete agreement with all the Lib Dem policies but I really admire that she has stood twice – she is obviously very passionate.”
Jozie Meldrum, 18