MPs go back to school for Schools Questions and Answers

BBC Schools Questions and Answers-live from Leeds
Image caption,
BBC Schools Questions and Answers - live from Leeds

A BBC satellite truck stands at the door of a school hall in West Yorkshire; cables snake to live cameras; the panel of national politicians and a packed audience are waiting for the familiar theme tune to be played in.

This is the BBC's Question Time - but not as we know it.

The entire production of Schools Questions and Answers has been researched and fixed by a team of teenagers.

The broadcast is put together using the same equipment and technicians as the BBC's longest running television political discussion programme, but is being broadcast as a live webcast on the internet.

Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in the Leeds suburb of Chapel Allerton won the chance to produce this "junior" version of Question Time by being one of the winners of a national competition run by the BBC.

Teenage agenda setters

After sitting through the event I think the term "junior" ought to be ditched.

The panel certainly found it no less probing than the long-running original version.

The Yorkshire teenagers had a clear agenda that pulled no punches: the iniquities of email and online "snooping"; unaffordable higher education and why is the political elite made up of "toffs"?

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Henry Theakston is a student at Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in Leeds

"I think they do sometimes take into account what young people say," said 16-year-old Henry Theakston.

"But not enough. They are mostly focused on the older generations. We, and people slightly older than myself, tend to feel a bit lost."

Henry Theakston, one of the team from the school whose presentation to the BBC won it the chance to put on their own programme, was speaking to me just before he became the school's representative on the panel.

He was in powerful company.

Sitting alongside him was George Galloway, the new Respect MP for Bradford.

Rising Labour front bench star and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves; Anna Soubrey, the outspoken Conservative back bencher for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire, and senior Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West region Chris Davies made up the rest of the panel.

Energising youth vote

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Kirsty Wark - the Newsnight veteran took the chair in Leeds

Veteran BBC Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark chaired the meeting. She was full of enthusiasm for schools to take part in the competition and watch the programme.

"I think it's important that it is a webcast as well. We should be using all sorts of technologies to have programming that can reach all schools," she told me.

"The idea that it's live around the country with more than 200 schools taking part is fantastic.

"I think politicians have got a long way to go to energise the youth vote."

The need for action was highlighted by the Hansard Society just a few days before the webcast when it published its latest Audit of Political Engagement.

The educational charity was set up in 1944 to promote parliamentary democracy in the UK and has regularly reported on the issues of falling political interest in the young.

A MORI poll for the society reveals just 39% express any interest in politics.

Only 27% say they are "certain to vote".

Just before the May 2012 local government elections the government's Electoral Commission warned that 56% of 17-25 year olds are not even registered to vote.