It proved to be third time lucky for students at Richmond School and Sixth Form College to question their local MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak about a wide range of current issues. A visit to the House of Commons in February 2020 was postponed, as it coincided with Mr Sunak, MP for Richmond (Yorks), being appointed Chancellor, and a subsequent visit to the school was cancelled on the day the country went into the first lockdown.

The 100 Economics, History and Business Studies students at the Sixth Form College agreed that the visit was certainly worth the wait as they posed thought-provoking questions to Mr Sunak about a host of political issues, from Covid and Cop26 to Austerity, Brexit, HS2 and Black Lives Matter.

The Question and Answer session was moderated by Jonathan Baines, a Year 13 student, who did an outstanding job of welcoming questions from the floor. Jonathan said: “I was honoured to be invited to host the Question and Answer session with Mr Sunak. It was really interesting to be able to have a discussion with a man in his position and it was good to see him being tested with such smart questions by the students.”

Mrs Mawer, Lead Teacher for History, who organised the visit, added: “It was very kind of Mr Sunak to fit us in his busy schedule. It was a fabulous opportunity for our students to meet their local MP in person and pose questions on issues that concern them. The students were fascinated to hear him explain his work in government and his thoughts on the future.  His visit gave the sixth form a real buzz and it was wonderful to see the students engaging in current affairs and the political issues of the day.”

Mr Sunak was most impressed with the challenging nature of the questions and said: “It was tougher than being on Andrew Marr! I was very impressed by the thought and care that had been taken in framing the questions.” He went on to say that with the Treasury moving to Darlington there are apprenticeship opportunities in economic policy-making and that it would be great to see some of the students who are studying Economics working alongside him at the new Treasury campus.

Mr Sunak was asked what inspired him to enter politics. He explained that the example set by his parents – a family doctor and a pharmacist – had been pivotal. Having worked in his mother’s community pharmacy he had been impressed by the positive impact they had on so many people’s lives and how much they gave back to the community. He said: “I am now running my local constituency surgeries in a similar way as my Father did and I’m hopefully making a difference to my constituents’ lives.”

Mr Sunak was also delighted to meet seven younger students in the school’s ‘Achieve Group’, who were keen to question him about his support of tree planting and to share an environmental project that they are currently working on in school. The students were aware that Mr Sunak is supporting an initiative to create a huge new forest in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, where 250,000 trees will be planted and they told him about their social action project to plant trees on the school site and the fundraising they are doing to make this happen. Mr Sunak was very interested in their work and the students were thrilled when he purchased some tickets for their raffle, which is supporting their project. Mr Sunak explained that he is keen to see many more trees planted in the local area to boost efforts to tackle climate change and he hopes to be able to offer the students the opportunity to help with the tree planting.

Lynsey Carruthers, PE teacher and leader of the Achieve Group, concluded: “I was incredibly proud of how the Achieve students conducted themselves. They spoke with passion and confidence as they maturely discussed their tree planting project with Rishi Sunak. The Achieve programme aims to develop students’ communication skills, resilience and essential life skills and I whole heartedly believe that these students have realised these.”