In Issue 1/2021

The Official Report, also known as Hansard, in the House of Commons has built up its training course for new reporters over many years, evolving practice and elements in the light of experience. Through the association with City, University of London, content, teaching and assessment methods have been re-evaluated and revised within a higher education framework to develop the course further.

The diploma was officially launched in May 2012, accredited by City, University of London. The course is full-time and lasts 26 weeks. In this article, we will briefly describe the aims, contents and practical implementation of the course.

Course aims

Students learn to produce reports to the high standards required, within the strict deadlines set, through an understanding of the complexity of and need for judgment in parliamentary reporting. Integral to this is a knowledge of the political and social context in which debates take place.

Students identify when to edit and when to report verbatim and they develop light-touch editingtechniques to address editorial challenges with minimal impact. They learn how to apply and adapt the Hansard style guide to differing situations. They punctuate to ensure clarity of meaning and capture the flavour of particular speakers. They correctly identify and refer to Ministers and Back-Benchers, including through use of the Hansard Reporting Suite, whereby metadata is added to references to aid research of debates and Members’ contributions on the web. Students also learn how to confirm information and solve problems through effective checking and research, and how to apply English grammar and syntax appropriately and intelligently.

Students also express the parliamentary decision-making process through the medium of parliamentary procedure and develop an understanding of its constitutional and political context.

The course is divided into two modules, which we will describe next.

Module 1: training based on classroom work and attendance of debates

Module 1 lasts 13 weeks. In the beginning of the module, tutors introduce students to the history of Hansard and the role it plays today. They explain how a team of IT, administrative, reporting and sub-editing staff work together to publish, within strict deadlines, accurate daily reports of debates and proceedings in Parliament. This common goal is the recurring theme that binds the many elements of the course.

Students do “turns”—reports of five minutes of debate—from the outset of module 1. Their knowledge of the many aspects of the role of Parliament is built up further through presentations by tutors and the exercises they set. The students also make frequent visits to the various forums of Parliament to observe live proceedings. At first, students’ turns are looked at as a group. Such group discussion forms an integral part of module 1, as it provides an opportunity to share knowledge and to examine practice on, for example, grammatical errors, use of the style guide to promote consistency and contractions.

Changes have been made to the design of the training room that is used in the first 13 weeks of the course to encourage discussion. Formerly, the tutors sat at the head of the room, in front of a whiteboard, with the students at desks in two rows. Now, desks are placed in a circle, with the tutors’ desks forming one part and a large conference table in the middle. There is also a separate breakout area for more informal discussion and an office for private one-to-one conversations.

Individual tutoring forms the other core part of module 1. Here the tutor and student examine the report produced by the student together to discuss the editing decisions made and other aspects of the challenges faced. This approach is facilitated by the relatively small number of students —up to six on each course—which allows the two tutors who are on duty each day to review and discuss students’ reporting decisions with them one-to-one.

Module 2: training based on live reporting

In module 2, students employ and develop the reporting competences established in module 1 while working on live parliamentary material, which will be published online and in print. These competences are monitored through continuous assessment. Every week, four turns by each student are awarded a pass or fail, according to the criteria used in module 1 to mark students’ reports. The student and tutor also meet weekly to examine the turns in detail, thereby continuing the close student-tutor relationship struck in module 1. This offers additional feedback opportunities for students and tutors and enhances the monitoring of student development. A major aim of continuous assessment is to ensure the closer alignment of the course with the job.

In addition, the students maintain a portfolio of commentaries explaining how their work demonstrates the understanding required. Under this component, students choose various examples of their work—a report of a Select Committee meeting, of a debate in Westminster Hall, or of the proceedings in a Public Bill Committee—and explain the rationale for the editing decisions they made, providing a forensic examination of the reporting challenges faced and the various skills and tools required to meet them.

Assessment of the course

The learning and development of all students is assessed in module 1 by four written exercises, a two-part test on parliamentary procedure, and a presentation based on their research on a relevant topic. In module 2, the learning and development are assessed by four further written exercises, the continuous assessment component, plus the portfolio of commentaries. Students must achieve at least a pass in both modules in order to complete the course and be awarded the Postgraduate Diploma in Parliamentary Reporting. The assessment exercises and procedure test are taken under exam conditions.

Frequency of programmes and working with other institutions

The programme is run as internal demand for new parliamentary reporters arises. This is normally when existing reporters progress to higher employment grades or to different employment in or outside the House of Commons. The programme typically runs once every 18 months, and projected student numbers for each cohort are between four and six. Expansion of numbers, and possibly increased programme frequency, is possible if demand increases from other institutions that require qualified parliamentary reporters.

Tony Minichiello is programme director, postgraduate diploma in parliamentary reporting and has been a managing editor, Official Report (House) since 2017.

Jonathan Hoare was formerly programme director, postgraduate diploma in parliamentary reporting and has been a managing editor, Official Report (House) since 2014.

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