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Last Updated: Tuesday May 25 2010 10:51 GMT

The Queen's Speech

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Central government

Overview

The Queen delivering her speech in Parliament

The Queen's Speech sets out the government's plans for change over the next year.

Steeped in tradition, it usually takes place in November, or following a General Election.

Students test their knowledge of the ceremony with a true/false quiz then decide on priorities for their school.

Learning aims

By the end of the lesson students should understand:

  • The function of the Queen's Speech
  • Limited parliamentary time means a government must choose priorities

Ice-breaker

True or false quiz

Find out what the class already know about the ceremony by reading out these questions.
Explanations are given for each of the answers.

1. The Queen's Speech is so called because it is written by the Queen. True or false?

False: The speech is written by the government but is read out by the reigning monarch. It is a reminder of times when the monarch controlled what was debated. Today the prime minister has the last word on what is included.

2. The speech is written on goatskin. True or false?

True: It is written on a fine parchment made from a goat. The ceremonial trappings surrounding the speech make the event a high point of the parliamentary calendar.

3. The Queen takes one MP hostage at Buckingham Palace until after her speech. True or false?

True: This is now just a tradition but it dates from times when the monarch did not trust the MPs. The hostage is a government whip who is released when the Queen leaves Parliament safely.

4. When the Queen is ready to speak, she sends a messenger to tell the other MPs to come and listen, but they slam the door in his face. True or false?

True: The messenger, called Black Rod, has to knock three times before he is allowed into the House of Commons. This symbolises MPs' right to debate without interference from the monarch.

5. The Queen enters using the public entrance, as in Parliament the Queen is no more important than anyone else. True or false?

False: The Queen of course has her own entrance. It is called the Sovereign's Entrance. The public use St Stephen's Entrance.

6. To make the Queen's arrival in the House of Lords really special they turn the lights up as bright as they will go. True or false?

True: Apparently the effect is quite dramatic. The Queen takes her seat on the gilded throne in the House of Lords to deliver the speech.

Main activity

Head teacher's speech

The head is to make a speech outlining the schools' priorities for the next year.

Just like the Queen's speech it will not be written by the head. It will in fact be written by students.

In pairs, students draft a list of the top TEN things to change in the school next year.

To be fair to the whole school, they should include something for:

  • Girls
  • Boys
  • All age groups
  • Sports fans
  • People who like reading
  • Teachers
  • People who like music

No time for all ten

Bring the group together and ask pairs to present their lists.

Now explain to them there is only time for FIVE things to be mentioned in the head teacher's speech.

This reflects the fact that parliamentary time is limited and a government must choose its priorities.

Pairs join together to make small groups of four or six.

In groups, they select five things to change from their joint lists.

The groups present their revised lists outlining what will be included in the head teacher's speech. They explain:

  • Their top five priorities
  • How they came to make their decision

Plenary

Remind students that the Queen's speech outlines government priorities for the next 12 months.

Time is short so not all changes can take place in one year.

The debate over what is or is not a priority is at the core of political life.

Teachers' Background

The state opening unites the three elements of Parliament in one event.

The monarch, the Lords and the Commons all gather in the chamber of the House of Lords.

The ceremony takes place after a general election and at the beginning of each new session of Parliament.

Black Rod is responsible for accommodation, security and services in the House of Lords. He has a chair in the House of Lords and wears a distinctive black costume.

After the Queen's Speech, the House of Commons debates its contents. This is known as the debate on the address.

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