Aim: To raise students’ confidence and participation in their use of spoken English and thus to raise the standard of their formal spoken English. To encourage students to engage with current events and contemporary issues.
Background: At this very academic institution, students tended to be literate and literary without necessarily having strong oral communication skills.
- Teachers attended debating training.
- A weekly Key Stage 5 debating club was established.
- English colleagues were trained and other subjects became involved.
- Students entered national debating competitions, e.g. the English Speaking Union (ESU) Schools’ Mace.
- Year 11 students established a KS3 debating club.
- A wide range of debating resources were collected, e.g. motion lists, timing pro formas, ESU handbook, Rotary Club Youth Speaks handbook, ESU competition DVDs, debating websites and YouTube clips.
- Links were forged with the ESU for teacher training.
- Links were made with staff who run debating at Birkenhead Sixth Form College.
- A number of students entered public speaking competitions.
- A debating competition with the local Sixth Form college was hosted at school.
- Links were made with the organiser of the Rotary Club Youth Speaks competition.
- Student election hustings were arranged to coincide with the national general election.
Evidence: Attendance registers for debating clubs, student questionnaires, competition success.
Impact: Debating became popular and enjoyable. The students involved became more politicised and aware of contemporary issues, such as election debates on TV, Question Time, Sky News and quality newspapers. Student debaters enjoyed the challenge and excitement of competition and grew in confidence as a result. The school team became North West Regional Champions of the national debating competition, the ESU Schools’ Mace. They also made it to the national final in London, where finalists were comprised of the top 12 debating schools in the country (out of 400 competing schools). The school entered the Rotary Club’s Youth Speaks Public Speaking Competition and came third out of eight local schools. Students have quoted this valuable experience in university applications and student debaters achieved the top band in speaking and listening marks in GCSE English.
Reflections: Establishing a debating club in a school (and with it a debating culture) is a hugely rewarding project which undoubtedly benefits all the people involved, particularly the students. Assisting young people to become more confident, more articulate, more informed, more independent and more sociable is an extraordinarily worthwhile aim for any school and any teacher. Challenges included the new curriculum changes which have seen the speaking and listening component dropped from GCSE English Language. There have also been constant timing clashes with revision sessions and other clubs to overcome.
Contact: Steven Jackson