Friday 13th December 2019 was a day of great political significance in the UK, with the general election results leading to an earthquake of changing fortunes for parties and politicians alike. For 60 pupils from Years 11 to 13, however, it was a day of unmixed good fortune: exciting new experiences; learning about our democracy and – to top it all off – some Xmas shopping.
Coombe Dean’s annual Parliament Trip is one of the highlights of our educational calendar. Each year, we take some 60 Year 11 and Post 16 students to Westminster where they enjoy a tour of Parliament, and then take part in a workshop led by staff of the Parliament Education Team.
The tour takes pupils through the House of Commons and Lords, enabling them to stand in the very place where laws are made in the UK and to understand the working of our democracy. Among many fascinating sights, they see the voting lobbies, the dispatch boxes, the viewing galleries and the Speaker’s chair.
Experiencing these spaces first-hand prompts thinking – and this year’s pupils were bursting with interest, asking lots of questions about the way in which debate happens, the role of the Speaker and the relationship between the two ‘houses’.
Back at the Education Centre, the workshop focused on how elections operate. Pupils worked in parties to develop a manifesto, to campaign and vote and, finally, form a government – in the space of just over an hour. Pretty quick work compared with the real world! However, their policies were sharply focused on real world issues such as voting age, housing, climate change and law and order. One party even offered the prospect of a communist system – although this proved to be less popular with voters than they might have hoped.
After the tour there was time for sightseeing – Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade, Trafalgar Square and Chinatown – before some independent time in Oxford Street for shopping and eating. Then it was a trip on a packed rush-hour tube and a train-ride back to Plymouth.
With a return time of just after midnight, it was a busy day, but one full of learning and character-building.
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