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Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Thursday, 24 March 2011

School Report: Young reporters quiz party leaders

Leaders of the UK's main political parties have each faced a tough question session from aspiring reporters as part of the BBC's School Report News Day.


School Reporters descend on Downing Street

Pupils from across the UK have switched places with foreign dignitaries and the world's press to get the chance to grill the prime minister.

Downing Street opened its doors to 30 students, prepared for some hard political probing with some lighter lines of questioning thrown in.

Sarah, from Assumption Grammar in County Down, was keen to know how David Cameron had marked St Patrick's Day.

The answer - he had joined leading NI politicians at a Downing Street party and left with a bowl full of shamrocks, but regretted nobody had offered him a pint of Guinness.

Molly, from Kelso High School in the Scottish Borders, made clear her own ambitions when she asked what the chances were of her, as a woman from a state school, becoming "anything major in politics".

Mr Cameron extolled the successes of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to lead the UK, a Conservative and a state-school pupil.

"It's not enough just to open up and say welcome to everybody. We want to go out and find women who are going to make brilliant politicians," he said.

He then advised Molly to join a party, preferably his, try some door-knocking and delivering leaflets, and maybe become a local councillor and work her way up.

"Maybe one day, you'll be standing here and you can answer the questions and I can have a day off," he added.

Bryn, from Burnley in Lancashire, described the dilapidated neighbourhood surrounding his school - Sir John Thursby Community College - and asked whether a North-South divide still existed.

"There has been and there still is, particularly in the last 10 to 20 years," Mr Cameron said.

He said growth had been centred on the south of England, particularly the City of London and a bias towards finance, housing and government-spending, and away from making things, had created an unbalanced economy.


Miliband questioned by School Reporters

Gangs, the makings of a good prime minister and vampires were on the agenda for Labour leader Ed Miliband.

The press conference in the library at south London's Lilian Baylis Technology School got under way with a two-pronged question from Alimah and Akmal, both from Bemrose School in Derby, about gangs and crime.

Mr Mililband insisted on the need for police on the streets and tough penalties to deter people from wrongdoing.

But he also stressed the need to remember young people were not just the members of gangs, but also the victims.

"I think you've got to give people who might go into gangs other things to do," he said.

The Labour leader then turned the question back on the boys, who told him their local youth centre was being threatened with closure which would mean young people hanging around the park rather than going to the club.

Hassan, also from Bemrose, wanted to know what made a good prime minister.

They could not be remote, they had to listen and be willing to make tough decisions, he said. And his toughest so far? Choosing to stand against his brother, David, for the leadership of the Labour Party.

He then pressed the group to consider going into politics, if not journalism, but warned them of the level of commitment needed.

"You have to believe in changing the country," he said.

Mr Miliband, a father of two, did not hesitate when asked the thorny question: Vampires or wizards? "Definitely wizards," he said. "Vampires are too scary."

During a quick-fire question round, he also declared a preference for Pepperoni pizzas, TV's Desperate Housewives, dogs, baseball and fruit.


School Reporters put Clegg on the spot over tuition fees

It was probably a first - a coalition of students taking on one half of the government's coalition.

In the grand surroundings of the Cabinet Office, Plumstead Manor students in red jumpers joined the dark-blazered boys from Reading School round a table with Nick Clegg.

On the agenda was long-term unemployment, the alternative voting system, military action in Libya and changes to secondary education.

The question that brought the loudest laugh came from a persistent Matthew, from Reading School. What should we be doing to contribute to the Big Society and what do you personally do?

After Mr Clegg appeared to answer the first part, but not the second, Matthew refused to let him off the hook.

"That's a very good question," Mr Clegg said, before gathering himself and detailing the contribution he makes as Sheffield MP.

Other personal and probing questions came thick and fast: do you take public transport to work? (no, I have a driver); why, as a smoker, are you proposing moving cigarettes below the counter (my personal habits are not to be recommended); why were your university fees paid for when ours probably won't be (It was the Conservatives' decision, not the Lib Dems')?

Ali, also from Reading, posed a question Mr Clegg may have already asked himself once or twice: How do I become prime minister?

The advice was "don't pin all your hopes on it - go for it but don't become too obsessed".

Students also learned Mr Clegg favoured English over maths, and would rather listen to classical music than hard rock.

Other schools involved in the David Cameron press conference included Brentside High School, west London; Chantry High School and Sixth Form Centre, Ipswich; Cottingham High School, Yorkshire; Desborough School, Maidenhead; Lurgan Junior High School, Craigavon, NI.

Also, Monkseaton Middle, Tyne and Wear; Primrose High School, West Yorkshire; Rainham School for Girls, Kent; Sir James Smith's Community School, Cornwall; Stanchester Community School, Somerset; The Minster School, Nottinghamshire; Thistley Hough Media and Visual Arts College, Stoke; Ysgol Gyfun Bryntawe, Swansea.

Ed Miliband also spoke to students from Unity College in Manchester; Park Community School, Hampshire; Guildford County School, in Surrey.


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