Girls school head: Lack of ‘respectful debate’ in parliament sets bad example

The headmistress of Manchester High School for Girls has scorned political leaders in an open letter

The headmistress of Manchester High School for Girls has slammed the conduct of politicians throughout Brexit uncertainty, saying that our political leaders set a bad example.

Claire Hewitt has written an open letter to members of the House of Commons, praising the debating skills of young people today in the hope of shaming MPs into thinking about how their behaviour could affect young people.

Hewitt told IE: “Respect is something that everybody should be entitled to and teachers in schools across the country spend a lot of time talking to pupils about how they should respect others. Currently, our political leaders aren’t setting a very good example and I wanted to put across how concerned I am that their conduct will have a detrimental effect on the way that young people interact.

“Even if just one MP reads this letter and thinks about how their conduct could impact upon our young people, then it will have been worthwhile.”

Even if just one MP reads this letter and thinks about how their conduct could impact upon our young people, then it will have been worthwhile

She added: “There are many ways that schools can develop skills like this, both inside the classroom and out. I encourage staff to include aspects of debating in lessons and we have a fantastic Model United Nations Society here, who really do put politicians to shame.

“I actually wrote the letter after watching our MUN conference and was astounded by the level of maturity shown. We were fortunate to have pupils from independent and state schools with us and they all could have taught our leading politicians a lesson or two.”

You can read the letter in full below.


Dear Members,

On a daily basis we are bombarded with news about the uncertainties surrounding the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and it is becoming increasingly clear that the ramifications of Brexit are likely to be vast. Everybody has their own view on how our future relationship with the European Union should look. However, I believe that the conduct of members and other influential figures within the public eye is contributing to a shift in the way that people across the country interact, as respectful debate appears to be diminishing.

As political representatives you have a responsibility to set a positive example to our young people, both in your professional capacity and through your personal interactions with others. If regular infighting, disrespect and political point scoring becomes normalised behaviour we will create a culture of negativity which will be difficult to change.

I believe it is the role of an educator to encourage pupils to be ambitious and aim high, whilst helping them to develop the knowledge and personal skills that they need to achieve their ambitions. In contrast to the current environment, these skills include listening to others, working collaboratively, learning to overcome disagreements and debating ideas respectfully.

As headmistress of Manchester High School for Girls, I have been fortunate to watch young people from a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds debate domestic and international issues at events within my own school and others. Most recently, we hosted a Model United Nations Conference, where young people from all walks of life considered key global policy issues around the topic of justice. I found their conduct truly inspiring. Their ability to speak with clarity and maturity on such complex issues amazed me, but the respect and dignity that they showed to each other when they disagree is something that any purposeful leader could learn from.

I do not doubt that the role of a politician is a challenging one. However the world is watching and young people need positive role models. I ask you not to underestimate how your conduct will have a significant influence on our leaders of tomorrow.

Mrs Claire Hewitt

Headmistress, Manchester High School for Girls

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