Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament - Information Committee Contents



13.  Since the reports of the Commons Modernisation Committee and the Puttnam Commission, Parliament's Education Service has developed very significantly and its reach has expanded rapidly. The number of educational visits to Parliament has increased from 11,000 in 2005-06 to 36,000 in 2008-09.

Young people on Education Service visits

14.  Following joint work, our Committee and the House of Commons Administration Committee in 2007 published reports on Improving Facilities for Educational Visitors to Parliament.[6] We recommended the development of a dedicated space within the Parliamentary Estate for educational visitors that could accommodate 100,000 learners each year. Both Houses approved that recommendation,[7] and the Committees subsequently agreed a design for the refit of the identified space. The Parliamentary Education Centre is due to open in 2013.

15.  The Committee looks forward to the opening of the Parliamentary Education Centre, which is crucial to enable larger numbers of children to visit Parliament. The Committee will consider plans for the necessary ICT equipment to be installed in the Centre in order to ensure that Parliament provides a modern learning space for educational visitors and has appropriate facilities such as video conferencing for distance learning.

16.  The April 2007 House of Commons Administration Committee report on educational visitors to Parliament recommended further consideration of the case for subsidising school visits to Westminster from more distant parts of the UK.[8] In July 2007, we agreed that the Lords should support a trial educational subsidies scheme. A pilot scheme was launched in early 2009 offering a transport subsidy to state schools visiting Parliament through the Education Service from areas outside the South-East. In each of the first two terms covered by the scheme, the proportion of visits booked from areas outside London and the South-East rose from about one third to about two thirds. This balance reflects the distribution of schools across the UK. In addition, the proportion of visits from state schools has increased from about 80 per cent to 90 per cent, reflecting the percentage of state schools in the UK.

17.  The Committee welcomes the impact of the travel subsidy, which has increased the number of educational visitors from schools outside the South-East of England and from state schools. We recommend that the House Committee should continue the travel subsidy offered to state schools outside the South-East visiting Parliament through the Education Service.

18.  We received a number of very positive comments about the Education Service (QQ 4, 178). The Service is working to build links with teachers, schools and colleges and to tailor Parliament's educational activities to those who learn about Parliament in the classroom away from Westminster. Five staff in the Education Service now focus on outreach to young people and liaison with local education authorities. The educational outreach officers work with schools to train and support teachers in delivering the political literacy elements of the curriculum as well as supporting members of both Houses in their own outreach work in schools. In each of the last two years they trained 1,000 teachers across the UK.

Number of teachers and pupils reached by educational outreach

Teachers and trainee teachers reached by the educational outreach service
Pupils reached by the educational outreach service

19.  A number of sixth-form students told us how little education they had received in school on Parliament (QQ 176, 179, 184-85). This gap was reinforced by comments submitted to our web forum:

    "I have a great interest in the Lords and I have researched this off my own back; however I feel that more should be taught in schools about our legislature, as I cannot remember ever being taught such a thing during my time in education."

    "I think that I know a fair amount about the purpose and work of the House of Lords, but I had to search out the information myself on the internet. There's no real education about it in schools"

    "I never had any school lessons of the structure of the parliamentary system until I actively selected that choice at A-Level."

    "The only way to get through to young people is by visiting schools and colleges, inform them, put it in the curriculum as part of Tutorial."

20.  The Committee commends the work of the Education Service and welcomes the work that the Service is undertaking in training teachers. We recommend that the Education Service should explore ways to encourage teachers and the relevant curriculum bodies to increase coverage of the House of Lords in the curriculum.


21.  The Puttnam Commission recommended in May 2005 that "more should be done to enhance the effectiveness of parliamentary outreach work" and called for "a greater emphasis on outreach work".

22.  Since the Puttnam Commission reported, there has been a transformation in the way in which Parliament as an institution engages with people outside Westminster. Four years ago, Parliament had no outreach service. Today, the bicameral outreach service operates across the United Kingdom to promote the work of Parliament. Outreach officers work outside Westminster with local networks and media, campaigners and non-governmental organisations to strengthen the connection between Parliament and the public. In addition, the House of Lords undertakes its own complementary outreach work: the Lord Speaker is active in promoting awareness of the House's work, and many members visit schools and give talks to outside organisations.

23.  We received great praise for the work of Parliamentary Outreach. Novas Scarman, a social justice charity, said that the service had "shown itself to be responsive, flexible, informative and willing to engage with people on their own terms as citizens" (p 147, see also pp 33, 86 and QQ 4-5, 109, 111-114). The Fawcett Society shared with us feedback from ethnic minority women who had attended outreach events:

    "Very informative and interesting; I will now look on the Parliament website and give my opinion on issues. I didn't know of this site before."

    "The workshop was great with a clear explanation of how Parliament works."

    "I'm encouraged to learn that Parliament has taken on the initiative of going out and engaging with the people."

24.  People to whom we spoke about Parliamentary Outreach stressed that one of its key strengths was that it operated in the regions, rather than demanding that those wanting to know about Parliament come to Westminster (QQ 124, 150-51). Similarly, Novas Scarman stressed the importance of Parliamentary Outreach working through existing community groups and organisations: "By making contact with people through such networks, they can offer workshops to a wide range of people on their own terms, on their own ground" (p 147).

25.  The Committee commends the work of the Parliamentary Outreach service. The Committee is keen to see the completion of the national roll-out. We look forward to the formal review of the three-year programme and ask that this be presented to the Committee in time to allow for appropriate long-term planning.

26.  The Puttnam Commission also recommended that "Parliament should hold more meetings outside London. Select committees, for example, should hold more formal proceedings and public events beyond Westminster." The outreach team has already arranged meetings for Commons Select Committees outside Westminster and offers the same service to Lords Committees. We welcome the support that the outreach service offers to select committees wishing to meet outside Westminster, and we draw this support to the attention of other Lords Select Committees.

27.  In 2006 the House of Lords elected Baroness Hayman as its first Lord Speaker, and she has played a key role in developing the House's outreach programme. The feedback we received about the many outreach and public engagement activities which the Lord Speaker has championed is excellent and stresses the value of members operating outside Westminster.[9] The National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) reported how enjoyable they found it to have direct contact with members as it 'humanised' the House (p 144). Debatewise, a non-profit debating website, applauded the House's outreach work and called for it to be expanded to engage with universities (p 110, see also Q 208), and several comments submitted to our web forum called for "more of the Peers in Schools scheme":

    "the Peers in Schools programme is one of the best ideas in a while, and I'd love to see more of it"

    "Go into the schools, the younger the better, how many schoolchildren have actually met a 'lord', especially one who has explained the work they do, interact with the public, and make it common knowledge that parliament is accessible to all, not just a few."

    "One initiative that might work would be doing more of what I know some Lords are doing now—travelling around to schools and Sixth Form centres across the country and talking to students"

28.  We welcome the House of Lords outreach and engagement programme, championed by the Lord Speaker. It is three years since the House elected its first Lord Speaker. If the House at some point reviews the role of the Lord Speaker, we recommend that outreach and education remain priorities for the role.

29.  In our view, members are the greatest ambassadors for the House. The Committee calls on more members to participate in the 'Peers in Schools' programme and to talk to groups outside Parliament. The Committee also recommends that Lords members of All-Party Groups encourage those Groups to consider how they could contribute to the outreach and educational work of Parliament.

30.  The NFWI suggested that the House's outreach activities "could be expanded by offering participants at the regional sessions the opportunity to spend a day shadowing peers in their work." (p 144) Similarly, the Hansard Society suggested establishing "a bicameral Parliamentary mentoring scheme to encourage a range of people—from, for example, the education and health fields, business, third sector civil society groups—to spend some time in Westminster, shadowing MPs, Peers and parliamentary officials. The scheme would enable the participants to learn more about Parliament and its work and to be a 'goodwill ambassador' for Parliament in the future" (p 12).

31.  The House of Lords administration already offers opportunities for young people to experience work in the House. The administration offers both a 'Sandwich Student Scheme' for University Students studying for a degree in public administration or a similar subject and week-long work experience placements for students aged between 15-18. However, there is at present no equivalent scheme for people to shadow the work of members.

32.  We recommend that the House of Lords administration should draw up options for a shadowing scheme to allow members who wish to participate to have a range of people shadow their work.

Recommendations on Education and Outreach

6   1st Report of Session 2006-07 (HC 434), published April 2007; 1st Report of Session 2006-07 (HL Paper 117), published June 2007. Back

7   House of Commons, 12 June 2007 (Commons Hansard column 720); House of Lords, 16 October 2007 (Lords Hansard columns 675-90). Back

8   See paragraph 99 of the report cited above. Back

9   A full account of the House of Lords Outreach and Engagement programme can be found in Volume II pp134-35. Back

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