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Annual Review 2002/03

Beyond the Classroom

Recent ESRC funded research* found that extra-curricular activities have a positive impact on young people's civic and political knowledge and their inclination to engage in wider society. Our active learning projects often involve students across classes or year groups, rehearsing after school, and the events themselves often take place on Saturdays, away from the school.

National Youth Parliament Competition

A highlight of the year was the re-launch of the National Youth Parliament in June 2003, with sponsorship from Norwich Union. At an event at Downing Street, Trustee Cherie Booth QC celebrated the return of this popular competition with past winners from St Michael's RC School in Billingham, The Heathland School in Hounslow and Kyle Academy from Ayrshire. 2003/4 will be the next full cycle of the competition, which will now be open to youth groups or youth councils as well as schools. We will also pilot a Holyrood version of the competition, enabling teams in Scotland to model their parliament on either Westminster or the Scottish Parliament. A tailored teaching guide has been produced with help from the Scottish Parliamentary Education Service.

National Political Journalism Competition

Funding from Norwich Union also made possible the launch of the National Political Journalism Competition in summer 2003. An individual, or a team of up to four 11-18 year olds, will investigate a current political issue and put together their own news piece for TV, radio or newspaper. The winners, chosen by media professionals, will be invited to a reception in Westminster or Holyrood – as well as, we hope, gaining work experience with real political journalists. We have been working with teachers, young people and the media to determine the format of the project and the contents of the supporting resources. The competition has been endorsed by, among others, Martha Kearney of Newsnight, Mary Ann Sieghart at The Times and Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News.

"Politics is about real life and real people. It's serious - and it's fun. Get involved. It's the way to change things. And you'll enjoy it." John Humphrys, presenter, Today, BBC Radio 4

Bar National Mock Trial Competition

Last year this competition introduced over 2,000 15-18 year olds to the workings of the criminal justice system. Taking on the roles of everyone involved in fictional criminal cases – from defendants to court staff – teams of students competed against one another as prosecution and defence in real courts across the UK. Their preparation was helped by hundreds of barristers and their performance assessed by real judges or recorders. The final was held for the first time at the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh, resulting in some compromises between English and Scottish law, including the addition of the 'not proven' verdict. Penyrheol Comprehensive from Swansea clinched the national title, after a close fought grand final, judged by the Lord President, Lord Cullen.

Once again, we were extremely grateful to all the individual volunteers involved and to the General Council of the Bar of England and Wales, the Faculty of Advocates, Bar Council of Northern Ireland, the four Inns of Court, participating circuits and the court service.

"I very much enjoyed working with you on the Bar National Mock Trial Competition…it is a worthwhile project which deserves the support of the entire profession." Matthias Kelly QC, Chair of the Bar Council 2002/3

Magistrates' Court Mock Trial Competition

The equivalent legal project for 11-14 year olds is the Magistrates' Court Mock Trial Competition, which is run in partnership with the Magistrates' Association. On the same basis as the Bar competition, young people role-play lawyers, defendant, witnesses, magistrates and court staff in mock cases about issues from theft to fly-tipping. Local heats are held at 65 magistrates' courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with winning teams going forward to 16 regional heats to battle for a place at the National Final, which was this year held in Leeds. Northern Ireland swept the board with Assumption Grammar from County Down becoming the 2003 national champions, and Paul Smith of Foyle and Londonderry College winning the parallel Court Reporter Competition, judged by the Legal Editor of The Times. Funded by the Department for Constitutional Affairs (formerly the Lord Chancellor's Department) and Wilkinson, the competition this year involved over 4,500 students from 350 schools, with volunteer help from around 800 magistrates.

Building on the success of the Judges & Schools: Guide to Court Visits, the Department for Constitutional Affairs commissioned us to work with the Magistrates' Association to produce an equivalent guide for teachers and students visiting magistrates' courts. Aimed at key stages 3 and 4, the guides are available free to all schools and have also been sent to participants in the Magistrates' Court Mock Trial Competition.

"The key to its success for us is that the competition allows the young people to develop a range of skills in an engaged, educational way i.e. it truly becomes an educational experience. They enjoy both the challenge and the opportunity given. We do not deliberately select but adopt an inclusive approach so that 'all' have a chance and the value for all is so evident." Peter Buck, Enfield County School

* "Social capital, participation and the causal role of socialization", 21 January 2004, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cambridge University.

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