Updated and revised: 30 April 2011
Update: 30 April 2011: On Wednesday 4 May the bookings line for school visits between September and December 2011 opens at 8.30am. It fills up within hours, so…..get yours in early. The number is 020 7219 4496.
This guide is written for Staff of MPs but we know that W4MP is much used by students, school pupils and teachers and this guide will be useful for all of them as well. If you have any good ideas or tips for organising a school trip please let us know, quoting this guide, by using the W4MP Feedback facility (see ‘Get in Touch’ section of our homepage). Thanks to Christine d’Offay in Parliament’s Education Service for help with updating this guide.
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 MP’s 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 couldn’t get on a visit through the Education Service other options are listed below.
- Parliament’s Education Service
- Tour of Parliament – Central Tours Office
- Tickets to the Gallery
- Visit to Downing Street
- Tour of Big Ben
- Meet the MP / Question and Answer Session
- Other things to do in London
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.
- 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/visiting-parliament/visit-parliament
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.
- ‘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/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/online-resources
Tours of Parliament – Central Tours Office:
Tours of Parliament (the Line of Route) which include the Chambers of both Houses, the state rooms in the House of Lords, and Westminster Hall can be booked through the Central Tours Office (Ext. 3003).
During Session full tours are only available outside these sitting hours:
- Mondays 09.00 to 12 Noon Full Tours
- Tuesdays 09.00 to 12 Noon Full Tours
- Wednesdays 09.00 to 09.20 Full Tours 09.25 to 12 Noon Partial Tours (Lords Only)
- Thursdays No Tours
- Fridays 15.30 to 17.00 Full Tours
Tours normally get booked up a few months in advance so plan 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, fax them a booking form which can be downloaded from the intranet. (Use the search function for “Tour Booking Forms”)
If a group is over 20 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 group.
Tours begin at Cromwell Green (by St Stephen’s Entrance). They 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. 3100).
Whenever the Commons and Lords are sitting visitors can sit in the Galleries.
If the group are prepared to take their 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 their 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 2 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).
Visit to Downing Street:
Downing Street visits can be arranged for organisations (schools, community groups etc. but not families etc.). These involve a ‘street visit’, allowing access beyond the gate and photos outside the famous front door.
Ring John O’Connell at the Downing Street Direct Communications Unit (020 7807 3079) to check availability. A formal request is then required by post or fax (020 7925 0918) and should include the names of all the adults wishing to visit and the number of children.
Downing Street can reply to your office or send a confirmation letter directly to the group if you include their address.
Big Ben tours can be arranged for groups of up to 16 people, but not for children under 11 or for anyone who doesn’t fancy climbing all 334 stone steps – there is no lift!
To arrange for a school group to go up the Clock Tower you should call x 4862 or e-mail BigBenTours@parliament.uk. The tours are free of charge, but early booking is recommended.
Visits start at 10.30 a.m., 11.30 a.m., 2.30 p.m. and occasionally 9.30 a.m. on Mondays to Fridays. Tours take about one hour.
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 and then a Question and Answer session. Such meetings will probably last between 30mins and an hour.
Call the Sergeant-at-Arms Events Team (Ext. 3090) to book a meeting room.
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.
Lost in the wilds of Westminster? Find your bearings with our maps of the parliamentary estate and the surrounding area: www.parliament.uk/about/visiting/directions/maps.cfm.
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 across the road to St. James’ Park.
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 Cabinet 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 direct, 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/