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Neil Eckersley, Former Pupil and Theatre Producer

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Mock Election Debates Engage Pupils With Politics

Monday, 20 April 2015

In the run-up to the general election, Bolton School pupils are holding their own mock Leaders’ Debates in School. Boys’ Division pupils in Years 11 to 13 will fill the shoes of the leaders of the five main parties for the debates.

Jarlath Skelly in Year 11 took on Prime Minister David Cameron’s role as leader of the Conservative Party, while Year 12 student Oliver Bond stood in for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Akul Pankhania from Year 13 was the Leader of the Opposition, taking Ed Milliband’s place as Labour leader. Heading up the Green Party was Alexander Hall, and Year 11 pupil Andrew Lee stood as the leader of UKIP.

All five boys threw themselves into their campaigns by familiarising themselves with their party’s policies in preparation for debating the full spectrum of topics and issues that impact the UK. Twitter accounts were created by the leaders of the Conservatives (@BSBDTories), Labour (@BSchoolLabour), Liberal Democrats (@BSLP2015) and UKIP (@BSUKIP) to increase their outreach, and all leaders were given the option of using the information screens around the Boys’ Division as part of their campaign.

Boys’ Division Headmaster Mr Britton will also be conducting opinion polls as the campaigns progress.

The first Leaders’ Debate took place during this week’s Senior Literary and Debating Society. The Girls’ Division Theatre was packed with pupils in Years 10 to 13 from both Divisions, all of them eager to hear what each ‘party leader’ had to say in response to their questions. As they filed into the Theatre, the leaders handed out flyers outlining their policies and underlining the flaws or failures of the other parties, which gave the pupils plenty to consider even before the debate began.

The debate was chaired by Year 13 student Myles Blackwell, who called the meeting to order and explained the proceedings: each party leader would give an opening speech outlining their policies; this would be followed by general questions from the audience; and finally the leaders would be invited to make a closing statement before an informal vote.

Although the time allotted for opening speeches was short, each of the leaders managed to put across a great deal of passion and conviction for their party’s stance. It was clear even from this early point in the debate that the boys were willing to employ every debating tactic available to them to put forward their case: although their comments were based on policy, they also tried to persuade the audience to vote for them – and in some cases, why not to vote for the other parties. With UKIP leader Andrew Lee even breaking out a British flag to wrap around his shoulders, and Conservative leader Jarlath Skelly’s comments whipping up the audience, there was a great deal of drama to the opening scenes of the debate.

After all of the party leaders had their say, the Chair asked for the first question from the floor to kick-start the debate itself.

The first topic up for discussion was mental health. All of the leaders decided to discuss this in relation to the wider issue of the current state of the NHS; they gave great outlines of their party’s policies in relation to both. The second question of the debate was on the sensitive topic of immigration, which gave all of the leaders plenty of opportunity to debate strongly against one another and put forward their party’s views. This was followed by a discussion of housing and the housing shortage, and finally the current economy with particular emphasis on food banks. Party representatives used the four Bolton School party Twitter feeds to live-tweet salient points, quotes, and commentary on opposing parties’ policies throughout the debate.

Each of the boys who put themselves in a party leader’s shoes presented a great case for their party throughout the heated debate. It was very interesting to hear them discuss both topics and policies with a great deal of knowledge and confidence, and the pupils in the audience were clearly engaged throughout.

Finally, the Chair called an informal vote. The Conservative Party won with a total of 36 votes, with Labour coming second with 27 votes. The Liberal Democrats received 19 votes, while UKIP and the Green Party received 11 votes each.

Councillor Chris Peacock, the Labour Councillor and candidate for Westhoughton North and Chew Moor at Bolton Council who is also an Old Boy of the School, attended the mock election debate to watch the boys in action. He congratulated them on Twitter after the event, and thought that all of the mock leaders did a great job.

The next debate will be on Wednesday 22nd April at the Junior Literary and Debating Society, with an audience of pupils in Years 7 to 9. The final Leaders’ Debate will take place during Boys’ Division morning assembly on Tuesday 28th April.

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The Leaders with the Chair

The first Mock Leaders' Debate: Andrew Lee (UKIP), Jarlath Skelly (Conservative), Akul Pankhania (Labour), Oliver Bond (Liberal) and Alexander Hall (Green) with the Chair of the debate Myles Blackwell (seated)

The event offered a great opportunity for the boys to showcase their debating skills

The event offered a great opportunity for the boys to showcase their debating skills

Pupils were really interested in what the

Pupils were really interested in what the 'party leaders' had to say