MP is grilled by pupils at Hillcrest primary in Totterdown

Published on: 24 Nov 2017

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Pictured: Karin Smyth faces questions from Year 6 pupils in the companny of head Gina Lewis.

MP KARIN Smyth got the VIP treatment at Hillcrest primary school when she was given a tour on which she saw almost every activity in which the children take part – from history to art and from PE to English.

And she learned that the Totterdown school now looks more like a secondary school on two days a week, with pupils moving to different classrooms and taught by specialist teachers.

It’s a very unusual system for a primary schoool, but there are a wealth of benefits, said head Gina Lewis, including children having a high quality teaching of a broad curriculum and staff being able to use their own subjects and hone their skills.

Ms Smyth faced a grilling from the school’s year 6 pupils. Questions ranged from “What’s it like being an MP?” (answer: “It’s an amazing privilege, and very exciting) to “How did you feel before the General Election?” (answer: “Nervous and worried, but I decided I was going to got out there and persuade people to vote for me, and that’s what I did.”)

The Year 6 pupils have been practising their debating skills in English lessons, and it showed – almost everyone wanted to put a question to Ms Smyth, the Labour MP for Bristol South and formerly a manager for the NHS.

Some demand some quite searching answers. “Is it fair that schools should choose pupils by religion or whether they can pay?” asked Sam.

No, said Ms Smyth, she prefers schools where everyone is mixed together, from different religions and backgrounds, and boys and girls too.

A lot of the world’s problems are because people from different backgrounds don’t mix and understand each other, she said. “I went to a religious school and I didn’t meet anyone from another religion until I was 12, I don’t think that’s right,”said Ms Smyth.

“What more can we do to prevent global warming and pollution?” asked Ava. 

It’s up to all of us, said Ms Smyth, and it’s not being talked about enough because of all the attention devoted to Brexit. But children can keep reminding their parents and grandparents not to buy wasteful packaging, she said.

Asked what her main goal is as MP for South Bristol, Ms Smyth said it is to improve opportunities for young people going into work and training, because South Bristol isn’t getting enough people into college or on good apprenticeships, and in the future people are going to be really good at technology.

Why did you want to be an MP, another pupil asked. Ms Smyth said she had helped other people who worked in politics but she hadn’t thought about making it her career. But when in 2013 Dawn Primarily, the MP for Bristol South, said she was stepping down, she decided to stand for election, because she felt very strongly about the need for more women and mums to become MPs, “and the Government was doing nasty things to the NHS.”

Did you get much of a say when Britain decided to leave the European Union, asked Tom. “I spent a lot of time trying to persuade people not to leave, but I lost that,” said Ms Smyth. “But MPs do get a say in what happens next!”

The most difficult decisions she has taken part in were debates on whether Britain should join in military action in Syria, and on leaving the EU, she said. The first is about deciding whether to go to war and trying to save people lives, while the EU decision will affect Britain for a long time, she said.

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