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Reporting Parliament for young people

The Houses of Parliament, London, with Westminster Bridge on the right

Prepare for your visit
Visit Parliament
Report your visit
Share your report an audience

This resource is designed to support teachers and students who wish to report on their visit to the Houses of Parliament.

It contains preparatory lesson plans which focus on research and news-gathering, and a post-visit guide which concentrates on compiling a report.

There are three hour-long lesson plans and a post-visit guide:

Teachers with less time to prepare are recommended to use Lesson 2: Questions for an MP.

The post-visit guide is designed to be used by students as they compile their reports.

The pack draws on existing resources on the Parliament's Education Service and BBC News School Report websites.


Introduction to Parliament

Parliament's Education Service

Explain to students what a visit to the Houses of Parliament will entail using information on this page which sets out the programme.

Explain to students the aim of the lesson: To find out about Parliament and the role of an MP.

Use this interactive whiteboard resource which uses quizzes, images and activities to introduce the three parts of Parliament: the Commons, the Lords and the monarch. Set it for your Key Stage and chose the level most appropriate for your students.

As a low-tech alternative to the video, students match these questions and answers.

Representing constituents

Members of Parliament in the Commons chamber of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster

Explain to students:

The UK is divided into 646 areas called constituencies. Each constituency has about 100,000 people living in it.

During an election everyone eligible to vote has the right to select one candidate to represent them. Whoever gets the most votes becomes the Member of Parliament (MP) for that area until the next election.

They are elected to represent all the people living in their constituency, known as constituents, whether they voted for them or not.

MPs divide their time between Westminster and the constituency they represent where they hold meetings or "surgeries" where members of the public can come to them to discuss any questions or problems they might have.

However, they can only help directly with matters for which Parliament or central government is responsible. They can't help with matters to do with the local council or private disputes with neighbours, with an employer, with family matters or with companies who have sold you faulty goods; nor can they interfere with decisions made by courts.

Quiz: MP or local council?

Students take this quiz - MP or local council? - which is part of a slide presentation entitled Presentation: People and Parliament. Open the drop-down resources link for the lesson plan: People in Parliament. The questions are on slide 7 and the answers on slide 8.

Representing a political party


Explain to students:

As well as speaking for and on behalf of he people in their constituency, nearly all MPs represent the views of a particular political party. The main three parties in the UK are Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat. The party with the most MPs after a general election usually forms the government, which runs the UK. The next largest party becomes the official opposition. If an MP does not have a political party, they are known as an Independent.

Quiz: Main political parties

Students take this quiz about the main political parties which is part of the same slide presentation People and Parliament. The questions are on slide 4 and the answers appear with a mouse click.

Plenary: True/false quiz

Explain to students that as well as:

• Representing the views of their constituents

• Representing the views of a political party

MPs also:

• Make new laws and improve old ones through voting

• Check the work of the government by asking questions and debating decisions

Also, some MPs from the ruling party become government ministers with specific responsibilities in certain areas, such as Health or Defence.

Students take this quiz, available as a printable worksheet - How much do you know about MPs and Peers - focussing on the questions relating to MPs:

The answers are provided on this worksheet.


Interior of the chamber of the House of Commons
Each MP has a seat in the House of Commons

Introduction: Your MP

Explain to students the aim of the lesson: To research their local MP and devise a set of questions to ask them.

Brainstorm what they already know about their local MP.

Love/hate research

In small groups, students decide on one thing they love and one thing they hate in their role as:

• An individual

• A representative of the community

• A young person living in the UK

Each group uses their love/hate research to identify a wider theme. For example, if they hate it when people throw cans in the bin for general waste, the theme could be recycling.

Compile a class list of themes.

Divide the class into three, tasking each group to use the internet to find out one thing their MP loves and one thing they hate as:

1. An individual (Search engine tip: name of MP + biography)

2. A representative of the community (Search engine tip: name of MP + name of your constituency)

3. As a representative of a political party (Search engine tip: name of party + name of MP)

Again, using their love/hate research, students identify wider themes, and, using a different coloured pen, add them to the class list.

Ask students: Where is there a connection between what you love or hate and what the MP is passionate about?

Explain to students: You are going to base your questions on these themes.

Top tips


Before students devise their questions, share some reporting tips:

• Use open questions. Questions that can be answered with either "Yes" or "No" are closed questions. As a journalist you want to encourage your guest to speak, so start your questions with question words such as What and How. Bad example: Do you like your job? Good example: What is most rewarding about your job?

• Make your questions specific. Bad example: What are you doing about pollution? Good example: How can you encourage people to ditch their cars in favour of public transport?

• Add some of your personal experience. Bad example: What are you doing about vandalism? Good example: There are burnt out cars in my street. What are you doing to stop vandalism like that?

• Ask something they won't expect. Good example: During School Report 2006/7, Bridie, 12, from Park House School in Berkshire asked David Cameron: "If the Conservative Party were to form a boy band, who would be in it?"

With the theme list in vision and the top tips in mind, each of the three groups (individual, constituency representative, party member) devise three questions for their MP (nine in total).

Plenary: Ordering questions

Explain to students: There will only be a limited period of time with the MP and it's likely that not all questions will be answered.

Each group reads out their questions to the rest of the class, who vote to determine a rank order, with an expectation of being able to ask the top five.

If your local MP is unable to attend your visit to Parliament these questions can be sent through via email.


Introduction: Recap questions

Explain to students the aim of the lesson: To rehearse the interview with the MP and allocate newsgathering roles for students during the visit.

Read out the list, and order, of questions to ask the MP and make any final adjustments.

In the hot seat

With the teacher or a student acting as the MP, a small group of students practice role playing the interview.

The rest of the class, divided into five groups (one for each question), listen carefully and suggest a follow-up question; a question that which will provide an extra piece of information. E.g. How does that affect you personally? What did you do at the time?

Adam Fleming

Before beginning, share these tips from BBC political reporter Adam Fleming:

• Be a good listener. Often politicians will give away things in subtle ways and so you need to listen very carefully to the words they use. They very rarely say: "Listen to this next bit of my interview because I am about to tell you that I disagree with the Prime Minister." It's up to you to spot it.

• Be wary of numbers. When you hear a statistic, start asking questions because numbers can be manipulated. For example, a politician might say "We are spending so many billion pounds on this." Okay, but over how many years? Spread over how many places and people? Is this new money or have you already promised to spend it?

• Try and get a straight answer. Politicians love talking but sometimes don't say very much. Be prepared to ask your question a few times until your interviewee actually tells you something.

Gathering colour

Explain to students: As well as reporting what you found out from your MP, a good report contains "colour", which is journalist-speak for information which puts the audience in your shoes.

Students take a virtual tour of Parliament which is found towards the bottom of the What Parliament does page on the Parliament Education Service website.

In small groups, students note down what they might see, hear and feel, which would be of interest to others and feedback to the class.

As a low-tech alternative, students could use page one of this printable leaflet instead of the online tour.

Allocating roles

Now that the whole group has devised questions for their MP and thought about colour, each student should take on a particular role to gather information, both in words and pictures, during the visit to Parliament. For example, teachers might like to allocate these roles:

• Political correspondents (interview the MP and record their answers)

• Parliamentary reporters (gather colour during the visit to Parliament)

• Photographers (Snap both the MP and the visit to Parliament)

Teachers might also like to give different correspondents, reporters and photographers responsibility for gathering information about a particular section of the visit, for example:

• Journey to Parliament

• First sighting of Parliament

• Educational workshop

• Tour

• Meeting MP or peer

• Return journey

Plenary: Final briefing

Brief students about arrangements on the day of the visit, using this pre-visit checklist.

Organise for students to meet after the visit to compile and publish the report.

Share these equipment and reporting tips:

Political correspondents

Kit: Copy of the questions for your MP, clip board

Tips: Know who is asking which question, in which order. Memorise your question so you can maintain eye contact. Nominate someone, who is not asking a question, to note down all the MPs answers - it's tricky to ask and record the answer at the same time.

Parliamentary reporters

Kit: Pad and pen.

Tip: As well as recording interesting facts, remember to ask your classmates how they feel and record their answers. Ask everyone you interview how to spell their name and write it down.

A photographer takes a picture of himself in a mirror using a Canon EOS digital camera with flash
Make sure you take enough spare batteries


Kit: Digital camera and several spare batteries.

Tips: Ask the staff from Parliament's Education Service where you can and can't take photographs. Take two photographs each time, in case one is blurry. Have your back to the light or window. If you shoot into the light, your will get silhouettes. If indoors, experiment using flash and no flash to see which works best.


Plan to publish

First of all, decide where your report will be published e.g. in the school newsletter, on the school website.

Contact the member of staff responsible and let them know what you are doing. Ask them what format they need the report - e.g. on paper, on a memory stick - and when they need the report. In other words get a deadline, and work to it.

Review your material

Look at all the information you gathered - in note books, on the digital camera, information leaflets etc.

Decide which information is the most interesting. Use this and don't be frightened to leave the rest out.

Write an opening sentence


In a report, the key W facts - what, who, when, where - are very often placed at the top of the report, to give your audience the key information up-front.

Example: Year 8 students from Villiers High School travelled from Ealing to London to visit the MP for North East Fife on 20 March 2007.

While this gives your audience the key facts, and sets the scene, it's not the most exciting opening.

Try and grab the audience's attention by adding something which really stood. Here's the same story with a different opening sentence:

Sir Menzies Campbell revealed that he was bullied at school during an interview with Year 8 students from Villiers High School in London on 20 March 2007.

The rest of report should contain the rest of the information about your visit to Parliament and the interview with your MP, and if it helps to tell the story of the day, you could lay out the information as it happened (chronologically).

Example: Sir Menzies Campbell revealed that he was bullied at school during an interview with Year 8 students from Villiers High School in London on 20 March 2007. The interview was part of a school trip which began at 7.30 in the morning when students boarded the train for Westminster…


Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, London, reflected in a window

Good photographs grab people's attention, but bad ones put them off, so put your visually-best photo at the top of the page. This might mean placing a poorly lit photo further down the page, even is it one of the whole class with your MP. You might be able to rescue some images using photo-editing software or could try cropping out the bad bits.

You might like to use some photographs taken from Parliament's website:

Remember to check the small print about the use of parliamentary photographic images, so you are not breaking copyright law.

A good caption should explain the photograph, adding information, rather than stating the obvious.

Bad example: Year 9 students outside Parliament's Clock Tower

Good example: Year 9 students discover Big Ben is the nickname of the bell - not the tower


Crossheads are the chapter headings which break up large chunks of writing. They are used to let the audience know what's coming up - and also to keep them reading, so make use of catchy words and phrases.

Bad example: Making laws

Better example: Law factory

Double check your facts

If there is anything you are not 100 per cent certain of, go back to where you originally found the information and double-check. It's easy to change something on paper or on screen before you publish, but much more difficult to alter information in people's minds once they've read your report.

A second pair of eyes

Once you are happy with your report, ask someone else to look at it. They will often spot something you've overlooked.


Pass your report onto the member of staff responsible for publishing it. They might find this guide: How to put your news on the internet useful.

Share with others

Publishing your report at school will give you an audience, but you might like to use your report as part of a BBC or Parliament project as a way of sharing your work with a worldwide audience. Why not tell your teacher about these projects to and ask them to get involved?

With the support of the BBC, 11-14 year-old students develop their journalistic skills to become School Reporters. Then, in March, participating schools take part in an annual News Day, working to a deadline to publish their news on a school website, to which the BBC links. Also on the day, schools around the UK are featured on hundreds of BBC TV and radio programmes.

Send your reports to the team behind the website so they can feature the best on the site.

Local press

You might also like to send your report to your local paper and ask them to publish it.

Top ten tips: Reporting politics
22 Oct 09 |  School Report
Journalism tips: Political reporting
19 May 09 |  School Report

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