How to organise a school visit to Westminster

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Schools, both primary and secondary, in your MP’s constituency may request a visit to Parliament.  This is obviously a great thing for children to do (both educational and fun) so should be encouraged wherever possible.  Parliament’s Education Service offers a number of services for schools, teachers and MPs to support students’ understanding of Parliament and democracy, including a ‘visit Parliament’ programme.  The Education Service visits are in high demand and booked a term in advance.   If a school in your constituency can’t get on a visit through the Education Service, other options are listed below.

Parliament’s Education Service

Parliament’s Education Service works on behalf of both Houses of Parliament to support students and teachers in developing their understanding of Parliament and democracy.  All its programmes and resources are freely available and aimed at young people aged 7-18 in formal education.  http://www.parliament.uk/education/

The Parliament Education Service has extensive resources for schools and colleges.  They can arrange school visits to Parliament, provide teacher training about citizenship and political literacy, and creates resources to help teach these subjects in the classroom.

Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) can be accommodated in mainstream school tours, or special tours can be arranged for whole classes of children with SEND.  See here for details: http://www.parliament.uk/education/visit-parliament-with-your-school/special-education-needs-sen/

  • School visits programme  Schools receive a tour of the Palace of Westminster, providing the context for learning about the work and role of Parliament.  A choice of curriculum-focused workshops follows.  The school’s MP is always invited to take part in a 15 minute Q&A session.  To book, schools call the dedicated booking line 020 7219 4496.  Sessions are booked a term in advance and the booking line opens on three dedicated days a year.  http://www.parliament.uk/education/visit-parliament-with-your-school/A transport subsidy scheme is also available to help with the travel costs for state schools outside of London and the South East who have booked for a tour and workshop with the Education Service.
  • Parliamentary Education Centre:  Parliament’s Education Centre was officially opened by Professor Brian Cox on 15 July 2015.  The Centre, which is situated at the North End of Victoria Tower Gardens, is a world-class education facility that inspires and connects young people with Parliament and democracy.  It is a dynamic, stimulating environment, distinct from the school environment.  It makes use of creative and immersive technology to create a unique learning experience that generates a sense of anticipation in groups entering the space, and from which groups depart feeling inspired and excited about their Parliament.  Take a look at #ParlEdCentre on Twitter.  http://www.parliament.uk/education/visit-parliament-with-your-school/faqs-and-subsidy/the-education-centre/
  • ‘MP-assist’ visits – If your office has arranged a tour for a school from your constituency (see below for information on requesting tours), then you can request that the group receive a curriculum-focused workshop, facilitated by a member of education staff.  This service is subject to availability of staff and your office would be responsible for arranging rooms. To request an MP assist please call 020 7219 4496.
  • Education outreach team – Members of the service visit schools all across the country to improve teachers’ knowledge of Parliament and the political process and give them techniques for teaching political literacy in the classroom. http://www.parliament.uk/education/outreach-in-your-school/
  • Online resources – The education website has a growing bank of fun and informative web resources which aim to engage both teachers and students. http://www.parliament.uk/education/teaching-resources-lesson-plans/

To find out more about any of the services provided by the Education Service please email education@parliament.uk or call 0207 219 4496 or visit www.parliament.uk/education

Member-Sponsored Tours of Parliament – Central Tours Office:

Members of Parliament can sponsor tours of Parliament (along the Line of Route) which include the Chambers of both Houses, the State Rooms in the House of Lords, and Westminster Hall.  These can be booked through the Central Tours Office (Ext. 3003).

Under no circumstances should public tours of the Visitor Route be offered as raffle or auction prizes or similar. These tours are free and no charge should be applied in any way.

Full information can be found on the intranet here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/access-buildings/exhibitions-tours/parliamentary-tours/

During Session full tours are only available at these times:

  • Monday : 9am-12pm Full Tour
  • Tuesday : 9am-9.55 am Full Tour, 10am-12pm House of Lords Tour only
  • Wednesday : 9am – 9.55am Full Tour, 10am – 12pm House of Lords Tour only
  • Thursday : No Tours
  • Sitting Friday : 3.30pm – 5.15pm Full Tour

Non Sitting Days & Recesses :

  • Summer recess (once both Houses have risen) : Monday 9.30am – 12.30pm (except Bank Holidays)
  • Short November recess : 9.30am – 5.00pm
  • All other Recess : Mondays 9.30am – 5.00pm (except Bank Holidays where tours will move to Tuesdays )

Demand is high, so early bookings and flexibility regarding dates and times are an advantage; bookings open up six months ahead.   However, if a group is small enough they may be able to be added to another tour at shorter notice.

Once you have confirmed a date and time with the Tours Office, you will need to complete and email them a booking form.

If a group comprises over 25 guests, a second sponsoring MP is needed.  It might be worth establishing a reciprocal relationship with another friendly office to make this easier each time.

The Central Tours Office will post tour permits to your office.  The permits need to be signed by the sponsoring MP and sent to the visiting group.

Tours begin at Cromwell Green (by St Stephen’s Entrance). and take around 75 minutes.

Tickets to the Gallery:

Tickets to the Public Galleries can be obtained via the respective ‘Admission Order Office’ for each house, Commons (Ext. 3700) and Lords (Ext. 5949).

Whenever the Commons and Lords are sitting, visitors can sit in the Galleries.

If the group is prepared to take its seats in the gallery from the start of business (check the intranet for times), tickets can be booked in advance (in groups of up to 5, with some flexibility).  Ring to check availability and then send a ticket request form (available on the intranet, search for “Access to the Galleries”).

If a group wishes to take its seats more than half an hour after the start of business they can be added to ‘late lists’.  Space in the galleries is not guaranteed but the gallery Admission Offices will be expecting the group.  The late list can often accommodate large groups.

Tickets for Prime Minister’s Questions are very hard to come by.  MPs are allocated two tickets periodically using a rota system, but more may be available by applying in the usual way, but well in advance.  This is usually not an option for large school groups.

Tickets can be collected by the visitors on the day from the Admission Order Office in Central Lobby or from the Lords lobby.

Parliament’s Education Service has an allocation of gallery tickets for use by schools and colleges (x4496).

Tours of the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben are currently suspended

Essential works needed to refurbish and repair the Elizabeth Tower and Great Clock were announced in April 2016.  These large scale works will take place over three years, with an anticipated start in early 2017.  Tours are expected to resume once the works have been completed.

Unfortunately , places on tours for the remainder of 2016 are now fully booked. Tours are scheduled to resume early 2020 once refurbishment work is complete.

Further information is available on the intranet here:  https://intranet.parliament.uk/access-buildings/exhibitions-tours/big-ben/

Meet the MP / Question and Answer Session:

The highlight of any visit is of course a meeting with the MP!  The format of this session will obviously vary according to the age of the group and the preference of the Member.  A good format is a brief introductory talk about life in Westminster and the role of an MP, followed by a Question and Answer session.  Such meetings will probably last between 30 minutes and an hour.

Information on how to book a room, including presentation equipment, light refreshments and on photography and filming can be found here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/access-buildings/offices-rooms/room-bookings/

If requested in advance (on the booking form or by phone) the Central Tours Office will arrange for their tour guides to escort groups to your meeting room after tours.

Maps

Lost in the wilds of Westminster? Find your bearings with our maps of the parliamentary estate and the surrounding area: http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/access/directions/.

Lunch

It is very difficult to accommodate a large number of children in Parliament for lunch.  It is sometimes possible to book the Jubilee Room where students can eat packed lunches if the MP is present (Ext. 3090).  Otherwise the group might like to go to St. James’s Park, a short walk away.

Other things to do in London:

If the group is coming a long way they may be keen to do other things in London while they are down. You might suggest visits to a civil service department (the school should approach the department direct), the Churchill’s War Rooms, the Imperial War Museum, the Tower of London, a Thames River Cruise (several websites), or a trip on the London Eye. The Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum are all less than a ten minute tube journey away from Westminster, in South Kensington.

If you are a teacher or student and have just read the above and fancy a visit for your school, contact your local MP’s office, or the Parliament Education Service directly, and ask them to organise it for you.

Not sure who your MP is? Use this page to find out:  http://www.parliament.uk/g/modules/Commons/find-your-mp/