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Last Updated: Wednesday May 12 2010 14:57 GMT

What is The Cabinet?

Citizenship KS2/KS3/Levels E&F
Central government

David Cameron on the left, Nick Clegg on the right
Prime Minister David Cameron on the left, Nick Clegg on the right


Guide to Parliament
The table where the Cabinet normally meet

Prime Minister David Cameron gets to pick a team of ministers. He must form a cabinet of about twenty people.

Students decide which posts would make up a cabinet to run their school, then they see how this compares to the posts needed to run the country.

Learning aims

  • What is meant by a cabinet
  • Some key posts
  • Cabinet responsibility


What is the cabinet?

Can the group name any of the politicians who help David Cameron run the country? Why does a prime minister have people to help them?

Explain that: Prime Ministers work with a cabinet. This is a group of twenty or so (and no more than 22) senior government ministers who are responsible for running the departments of state and deciding government policy. The UK's cabinet is led, or chaired, by the prime minister.

A school cabinet

Students pick a cabinet to run their school. The headteacher gets to stay in charge but up to twenty people can be drafted in to help the head run the school.

The cabinet members

The cabinet members can be anyone, celebrities, sports stars, politicians, business people etc.

The cabinet posts

Let the students decide what the posts will be: e.g. Minister for playgrounds, minister for litter

Main activity

Now compare to the real thing

How many of these areas of responsibility did they include in their list?

  • Prime Minister
  • Deputy Prime Minister
  • Finance: Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
  • Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Secretary of State for Transport, and Secretary of State for Scotland
  • Secretary of State for Defence (external security)
  • Leader of the House of Commons (head of school council?)
  • Secretary of State for Health
  • Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and Chief Whip
  • Secretary of State for the Home Department (internal security)
  • Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Secretary of State for Wales
  • Minister without Portfolio
  • Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council
  • Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (school rules)
  • Secretary of State for International Development (Comic Relief?)
  • Secretary of State for Productivity, Energy and Industry
  • Secretary of State for Education and Skills
  • Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Minister for the Cabinet Office)
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury
  • Minister of Communities and Local Government (year group councils?)

Ministerial responsibility

Students pick the school cabinet post they would most like. Since this is their chosen area, they will be personally responsible for making improvements. If things don't work out they could get fired (this is their ministerial responsibility).

Working individually, they draft a ten point plan of action to improve the areas of school life their post looks after.

Cabinet's collective responsibility

Cabinet posts come with an obligation. Cabinet members abide by the decisions of the cabinet, and defend them even if they have personal doubts.

Working in pairs, students come up with a set of rules for collective responsibility. These should govern the way that members of the school cabinet talk about other ministers, and what they say about how things are going in other ministries.

Extension activity

Find out who the Cabinet minister with responsibility for schools is. What do they have planned? Students produce a political flyer saying how they would improve the education system.


Do the class ever exercise joint responsibility?

Are they ever held jointly responsible for their actions?

What problems can this cause?

Teachers' Background
  • The cabinet is bound by collective responsibility, which means that all its members must abide by and defend the decisions it takes, despite any private doubts that they might have.
  • Cabinet ministers are appointed by the prime minister and chosen from MPs or peers of the governing party.
  • However, during periods of national emergency, or when no single party gains a large enough majority to govern alone, coalition governments have been formed with cabinets containing members from more than one political party.
  • War cabinets have sometimes been formed with a much smaller membership than the full cabinet.
  • From time to time the prime minister will reorganise the cabinet in order to bring in new members, or to move existing members around. This reorganisation is known as a cabinet re-shuffle.
  • The cabinet normally meets once a week in the cabinet room at Downing Street.

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