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Playing politics

The General election may be well behind us, but it still burns bright in the memories of children at my school. To mark the event, we decided to spend the first few weeks of term running our own school election, letting the children form parties and run a campaign.

It was great - all the buzz of a real election, but without the Daily Mail. We started by filling the pupils in on the background, looking at the meaning of democracy and explaining the voting system. Their knowledge on the topic differed in the extreme, from one child who could tell me how many constituencies there were in the UK to some who weren't totally sure what a prime minister was.

There were children who could name the main parties (the word "Ukip" came up alarmingly frequently) and they asked good questions, such as "What's to stop the politicians promising to do things just to get you to vote for them, and then not doing them once they've won?"

They threw themselves into it, democratically electing a party leader and Cabinet, and debating long and hard over their policies. Although we let them have free rein with their election promises, the ones they came up with were touchingly sensible. A large faction was in favour of more non-fiction books in the library, while two children suggested more homework.

One child's suggestion - to build a swimming pool in the playground - was shouted down as "impractical". The real vote-winner proved to be a promise to introduce ketchup, salt and mayonnaise to the dining room. Forget Ofsted, teacher workload and QTS, the burning issue in primary education today is free access to condiments.

As election day neared, the campaigning became more frantic and Year 6 - denied the opportunity to run for office because of their impending Sats - became a key marginal, with classes besieged by rosette-wearing campaigners.

We even emailed the three main local candidates, asking them if they would come in and share some campaigning tips - and one of them actually did. Sadly, it was the wrong one, but the kids loved it. She left us with armfuls of leaflets and posters, which was really helpful as we're nearly out of backing paper.

The children made hugely enthusiastic politicians, albeit ones who were uncharacteristically truthful in debate, with an overriding sense of fair play. When news got out that members of the orange party had been taking down rainbow party posters and replacing them with their own, outrage came from all sides.

The election was a roaring success. We taught pupils that democracy was fair and inclusive; that politicians only prospered if they were team players who cared about the many, not just the few. Did we improve their teamwork and communication skills? Definitely. Have we given them suitable training for future careers in politics? Hell, no.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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