Students quiz town politicians

The 'Question Time' event
The 'Question Time' event

STUDENTS took time out of their lessons to grill town politicians about a range of issues during an innovative Question Time-style event.

Over 150 teenagers from English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College, in Catcote Road, packed into the hall to hear two debates in the style of the BBC One show.

The aim was to broaden their political horizons and to get them interested in what is happening in town.

Panel one was made up of Labour councillors Jonathan Brash and Pamela Hargreaves; Shane Moore, chairman of Hartlepool Conservative Future; Steve Latimer, a member of the new Putting Hartlepool First political party and independent councillor Cath Hill.

Members were grilled for over an hour about issues including tuition fees, the decision to scrap the education maintenance allowance, transport for faith schools and the role of the elected Mayor in Hartlepool.

It was the first time the school had hosted the event, and they plan to stage more.

A show of hands showed students were in favour of the elected Mayor system, while it was also highlighted that just one in four people bothered to vote at the last Local Elections.

Speaking after the debate, panel members praised the pupils.

Coun Brash said: “I was impressed with the range of questions and English Martyrs is very good at hosting these type of events.”

He added the hour-long debate was better than any discussion he had witnessed in the council chamber.

Coun Hargreaves said: “The more people, especially young people, we can get interested in politics the better.

“These type of events are great.”

Mr Moore, who was grilled over a number of recent government decisions including the U-turn on the ‘pasty tax’, added: “I expected a hard time, but it is great to see young people showing a genuine interest in politics.”

Coun Hill said: “The young people were really on the ball and were clearly aware of the issues that have an impact on us all.”

Mr Latimer, a computer network engineer, said: “The children were really interested in the new party and it has obviously caught their interest.

“It would be great if more schools did something similar to this.”

The second panel included Eric Wilson, chairman of the UKIP Hartlepool branch, and Pete Lawinski of the Asylum Seekers Advice Group, and touched on issues around immigration and the European Union.

Mr Wilson said: “The questions were very perceptive and we had a healthy debate.”

Teacher David Riddle, who organised and chaired the event, said: “The Year 12 students asked a lot of good questions and it was clear they had a good grasp of issues in town.

“Anything that we can do to raise their political awareness is a good thing.”