Create a fantasy frontbench and bring the reality of elections home for students

5th May 2015 at 18:00
Forget fantasy football; with the general election approaching, it’s all about the fantasy frontbench. Here, history teacher Laura Horton explains how an online resource developed by Matt Smith, a learning technologist at University College London, is being used in schools to help students build their own virtual cabinets and learn about voting along the way.

At the last general election in 2010, voters aged 18-24 registered the lowest turnout of all age groups, at a mere 44 per cent. If schools are going to help tackle this lack of engagement, it is important to find new ways to promote participation in politics from an early age − during this election and beyond.

Fantasy Frontbench is one of the tools available. In a twist on the popular concept of fantasy football, Fantasy Frontbench allows users to pick their ideal cabinet through analysing MPs’ profiles and voting history. Once created, users can see how their fantasy frontbench statistically breaks down by gender, educational background, age, experience and voting history. They can then share and debate their selection on social media.

How does Fantasy Frontbench work?

The not-for-profit site features explanations of the electoral system that will help learners to understand how the cabinet is formed, the roles and responsibilities of cabinet ministers and the primary processes of government. The site also hosts a number of pre-made frontbenches, including an all-female frontbenchyoungest frontbenchmost-experienced frontbench and a state-educated frontbench. This allows learners to see how different groups and demographics of politicians would work together.

How can I use it in lessons?

Creating a 22-person cabinet would certainly provide enough material for a whole lesson. As a starter activity, try holding a discussion about how the political system currently works. You can then give students a chance to create their frontbenches individually or in small groups. At the end of the lesson, ask groups or individuals to present their creations to the rest of the class before fielding questions about their choices from their peers and from you.

Run by a team of volunteers, Fantasy Frontbench aims to present political data in a way that is engaging and accessible to pupils, who may traditionally feel intimidated by political media. It’s designed to empower young voters through information and provide them with the opportunity to compare politicians on the issues that matter most to them.

Laura Horton is head of Year 13 and a teacher of history at Ruislip High School. She is also education engagement officer for Fantasy Frontbench.

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