Implementation of a school parliament in detail

1. Introduce student government to the students

The first stage of the implementation process generally begins with a discussion with students regarding the objectives of the project. The main aim is to create a student parliament, preferably a bicameral system of government. At this point it may be useful to show your students footage of a school that has successful implemented a school parliament. (The Constitution Education Fund film on school parliament)

Next in the introduction phase, discuss the importance of the Australian Constitution and the framework it provides for the governance of our nation.

The students discuss creating a Constitution for their school parliament. Discussion may centre on the rationale for rules and regulations, and students may discuss club/groups/committees that they belong to, and the rules and regulations by which members abide and why these are so important. Questions that the students may ask are:

  • How many student representatives would there be?
  • How exactly would the representatives be chosen?
  • How often would the student parliament meet?
  • Where would the student parliament meet?
  • How, if at all, would teachers or parents be involved?
  • What issues would the student parliament be allowed to discuss, and what issues would it not be allowed to discuss?
  • What kind of decisions would the student parliament be allowed to make, and what decisions would it not be allowed to make?
  • How the school should follow through with the decisions made by the school parliament.

You will ask students to write a constitution for their school parliament taking into account the discussion around the questions above (A sample/template of a Constitution can be found here). It is at this point that it is decided whether to implement a Senate as well as a House of Representatives. The Governor-General can be chosen at this point too and may be a teacher or the Principal of the school.

2. Form political parties

This stage requires a discussion of the nature of the Australian political system. However, it does not ask students to recreate our current political parties. Students create their own parties with their own choice of name and policies. This process can be assisted by first asking for all students to submit at least one policy to the teacher (this can be a wider Australian policy or a policy for the community, school or classroom). The submitted policies are then discussed. The students who wrote the most popular policies are then announced and students can decide how to group themselves into parties based on the policies that they agree with. Teachers may need to assist the students so that they group themselves into two major parties, minor parties, independents and coalitions (lessons on the two party system). Each party should choose a leader at this time. In the upcoming election, these students will be running for Prime Minister.

Below are some of the parties created by The Constitution Education Fund's current implementing schools:

SECONDARY SCHOOL Constitution Education Fund School Parliaments: Power to the People Party (PPP); Young Socialist Party (YSP); Youth Voice Party (YVP); Progressive Democratic Party (PDP); Voice of the Youth Party (VYP); United Socialist Party (USP), The Champions Red Party, The Aquatic Blue Party, Lawnmower Greens Party.

PRIMARY SCHOOL Constitution Education Fund School Parliaments: The Fantastics; The Future Party; (EIC) Every Individual Counts; Increasing/Decreasing Party; The Green Team; Student Welfare Party.

Among themselves the students decide who will represent their parties at the upcoming election. They can decide if this is done by a vote of party members or if a committee is created that selects candidates (the committee can include teachers). This is a good opportunity to explain to the students about how candidates are selected to run for election in the federal parliament.

3. Run election campaigns

Once students have formed political parties they begin their election campaigns. Teachers usually decide the timeframe for these campaigns leading up to the school election. Students and teachers discuss the parameters for the strategies students will use to inform the electorate on ‘how to vote’. Whether teachers limit students to written/hardcopy materials, audio/visual or online promotional materials, is for each individual school to decide. Some students who were not preselected to run in the election may decide to drop out of their parties at this stage to become journalists or cartoonists who will prepare materials that are distributed in the school. Others may drop out of the party to become election scrutineers.

4. Conduct elections

It is important to have an enrolment procedure. A deadline should be set by which all students must enrol to vote. This electoral roll will be used to create the certified list of voters on election day.

The style of election depends on the number of students wishing to participate. For smaller numbers of students a ‘first past the post’ election may be appropriate. For larger numbers, teachers may incorporate a preferential voting system in their election. This is the preferred voting system as it is the system that students will be using once they are able to enrol and vote at federal elections.

Some schools utilise a pencil and paper ballot system while others who have the capacity may incorporate an online voting system. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is always willing to assist schools with onsite visits to assist teachers and students with their election (AEC Democracy Rules resource for running elections).

You can further reinforce your students understanding of the importance of their votes by encouraging them to play the following online game (Take a Vote: Democracy).

After voting has taken place, the students who took on the role of scrutineers will count the ballots and prepare the results.

Once the results have been tallied they are announced to the school. It is at this time that the party or coalition of parties that has the majority of members is able to form government. Teachers may be able to assist in any negotiation between parties. The leader of the majority party becomes the Prime Minister and the leader of the next largest party becomes the Opposition Leader.

The Prime Minister and coordinating teacher then discuss the appointment of a cabinet, which will include student Ministers. Your School Parliament may include a variety of portfolios and initiatives (e.g., Ministers for the Environment, Social Justice, Student Welfare, Indigenous Youth, School Spirit, Arts and Culture, Civics and Citizenship etc). The Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representative is chosen at this time.

5. The Parliament meets

The first sitting of your School Parliament is a high point in the process of implementation. Choose the most appropriate location in your school for your first parliamentary sitting and begin to acquire resources and props that will create an authentic chamber. The Constitution Education Fund can provide teachers with relevant resources. Each school can request a ‘golden mace’, and with other items as required, e.g., a despatch box or Speaker’s robe to authenticate the experience for your students from The Constitution Education Fund.

At this stage of implementation of your School Parliament, discussion commences of the concept of the bicameral system of student government to reflect Australia’s upper and lower house structure. This is an opportunity to explain to students that legislation must pass both House of Parliament before it can be enacted into law.

6. Introduce legislation in the school parliament

The first sitting of your School Parliament should include the introduction and debate of the first bill (sample bill). The Bill should be about something that can be enacted within the school. The students should experience results from their Parliament. The Bill will need to pass both House of Parliament and then be signed by the Governor-General. At this point it become an Act of the school parliament.

7. Implement the legislation in the school

The Minister responsible for the Act of Parliament will assemble a group of students that were not preselected, and who were initially aligned with a range of parties to form the public service. This group of students will implement the legislation.