The Prime Minister's answers

27th March 2009 at 00:00
Two S1 pupils from Lasswade High interviewed Gordon Brown as part of yesterday's BBC News School Report

Not many people get to stroll along Downing Street. Fewer get a personal audience with the Prime Minister. And you can be sure no visitor is ever invited to see the PM's kids bouncing on a trampoline out back.

If, however, you're a 12-year-old aspiring journalist from Bonnyrigg, it's a different story. Nicole Philip and Aimee Brash, S1 pupils at Lasswade High, a secondary in Midlothian, travelled to London last week and gained the type of access to Gordon Brown for which seasoned hacks would spill blood.

Nicole and Aimee's English class was taking part in BBC News School Report, an annual UK-wide initiative in which pupils learn how to put news stories together and broadcast a live bulletin online.

For the Lasswade pupils, this included a tour of the BBC studios in Edinburgh with politics broadcaster Glenn Campbell. When it emerged that project organisers wanted two pupils each from the different parts of the UK for an interview they had secured with the Prime Minister, Mr Campbell recommended the Lasswade class he had remembered responding so enthusiastically.

A competition was held among the 19 pupils to decide who should go. Homework and attendance were taken into account, but the deciding factor was the letters in which each pupil had to state why they should be chosen. Nicole and Aimee won, but they were representing the whole class in London; the questions they were to ask had been voted for by everyone.

When they were taken to the Cabinet room, Nicole found the place a little like Doctor Who's Tardis - bigger than it looked on the outside and more modern. She remembers the experience as "really scary but exciting" before she met the Prime Minister, but her nerves eased when she asked her questions.

The young interviewers were no soft touch in their 45 minutes: a Northern Irish pupil asked about the recent killings of two soldiers and a policeman, and a Welsh pupil raised the thorny issue of whether a Great British football team should play at the 2012 Olympics.

Nicole asked about the advantages of being a Scot in London - it was always an advantage to be a Scot, he replied - and why so many Scots were in positions of power, which elicited a diplomatic reminder that there were other positions of influence aside from Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Aimee asked what job he would be doing if not Prime Minister. Most likely charity work, he replied, perhaps in Africa. Aimee was surprised - she thought he would prefer to work in Scotland. She also asked how difficult it was to do his job and spend time with his children, at the same time as indeterminate sounds came from the garden. "That's them making that noise," he said. "Why don't we go out and see them?"

Back at school, Aimee says the class was desperate to hear whether the Prime Minister was "really nice or strict". (The former, she and Nicole agreed). The sense of pride has spread through the school: pictures are on display, while the girls are to speak at every house assembly.

Depute head and English teacher Rosemary Mitchell accompanied the girls and recalls a surreal scene when they walked past the ubiquitous policemen outside the famous black door to quiz the most powerful man in the country: "It's amazing that two wee girls from Bonnyrigg were chosen to do this."


BBC News School Report gives 11 to 14-year-olds in the UK the chance to make their own news reports for a real audience. Using lesson plans and materials from its website, and with support from BBC staff, teachers help students develop their journalistic skills to become school reporters. Forty Scottish schools took part this year, with 30 BBC mentors. The pupils make the news to upload to their school sites. Some is broadcast live on the BBC News Channel and Reporting Scotland. More is available by pressing the red button.

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