stretch and challenge: why debating matters.

It is a busy week. Yesterday we took part in a staged debate at Age Concern, the first round of #debatingmatters in Hounslow and then received an email this morning to give my 6 year 12s a date for the Cambridge University Schools’ Debate. And now a year 7 parents’ evening.
So why do so many teachers give so freely of their time (always after school) to prepare and ferry students ot these activities?


We are charged with fostering independence and increasing “stretch and challenge. IS there a better way than in formal debate?

At my school I am lucky. I get 2 hours a week, timetabled, with a group of year 12s who have opted for enrichment debating. We engage in discussion and planning for an hour and run a British Parliamentary Debate in the other. Topics are broad and only restricted by imagination. Where else can students need to prepare their responses to global questions of philosophy and knowledge as well as deal with the wonderfully non-substantive and open motions provided by the THB the strong should support the weak,or the strange literature topics such as THB it is better to brave the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

In short, competition debating with 15 minutes to prepare and with no access to electronic devices requires wide knowledge and a mind which can draw parallels between disparate ideas. Students are required to posit arguments with which they disagree and to pick holes in those from seemingly God-like oppositions.

In the #debatingmatters format, they not only prepare their arguments but are quizzed in a Paxmanesque manner by no fewer than three judges, in public for 15 minutes. What is left of them after that is quizzed by the audience and their opposition – no hiding place and no room for those whose teachers play troo great a part in the preparation process. My four first timers won their round last night and are justly still smiling 24 hours later – achievement!

Earlier in the day, 4 others has taken part I n a Mace debate for Age Concern in Slough. A hostile audience who did not agree with the motion that “THB in a time of austerity, the government should prioritise youth” made for something of a pressured environment for my year 11s and 13s. They rose above it with aplomb. I have attached the unedited recording for anyone apart from mothers, aunts, uncles and eventual grandchildren to have a listen. This was not rehearsed – it is “warts and all”, but it is also hugely impressive.

Seeking stretch and challenge? Get debating.