Lower Sixth Excel at Debating Morning

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Recently, our Lower Sixth Humanities students got the chance to polish their public speaking and ramp up their rhetoric in the Bede’s Debating Morning.

In just under three hours, the English rooms were given over to 60 students engaging in 21 British Parliamentary style debates.  The format proved an exciting test for seasoned speakers and novices alike, with students only finding out their debating partner on the morning and only seeing the motions 15 minutes before the debates begun.

After exploring a few strategies in the old dining room, students were tasked with their first motion:  should sixth formers set their own prep.   A reasonably straightforward motion, one might say.  How brilliant it was, therefore, to see so many students digging beyond the simple answers and probing the underlying issues: how much do we trust students?  What is the role of the teacher in a world where information is readily available online?  How can we claim to personalise learning if we impose uniform prep across a class of fifteen students?  Brilliant questions, superbly addressed in so many cases.

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Our second motion was arguably the most hotly contested of the morning: should we support the extinction rebellion school strikers?  In this round, students really seemed to show development from the first debate, crafting their words for emotive effect, adapting their approaches to suit their position in the argument.  Here, many of the dominant teams began to assert themselves, but their were also dozens of standout individual performances, many from students debating for the first time.

The final debate was perhaps the most taxing of all, asking pupils to consider whether computer programming languages were of greater importance and utility, in educational terms, than the traditional world languages which are compulsory in so many schools.  There was fierce disagreement, none of it seeming synthetic.  How could we prioritise computer programming over human interaction, some argued.  Others put forward a forceful pragmatic argument: studying a programming language understood by a billion users would be preferable to study a national language spoken by only a fraction of that number.  In this final debate, it was excellent to see debaters becoming more forthright with their rebuttals, just as it was to see speakers not backing down, but urging on their case with more carefully chosen language and, importantly, more awareness of the opposing view.

All in all, the judges were hugely impressed by what they saw, which made choosing winners all the more difficult.

Over three debates, we saw a handful of teams winning two or more debates.  A huge well done to Violet Witt and William Gwynne, Lara Elder and Joshua Siggers, Lilliana Jones and Dan Moore, Freya Palmer and Max Jones, and Ella Gordon and Evan Nayler.

We had several more outstanding individual performers, already adept despite little practice of the format:  Oliver Jones, Joel Cheshire, Lucia Oxenden- Rodriguez and Rodrigo Merlo.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the whole morning and, in many ways, its purpose, was to allow students to discover a talent and appetite for something they had never experienced.  And we certainly found students who fitted that category.  So, a huge well done to Amber Giles, Georgie Cloke, Finn Horne, Jess Frisby, Sophie Lindenfelser, Clara Martin and Felix Sesodia.

For many students (...and, indeed, adults too) debating or any form of public speaking seems daunting. All the judges were hugely impressed by the attitude, resilience and composure of the speakers we saw.  Many students who entered will debate again later this year in the English Speaking Union Competitions, or in the coveted Cambridge and Oxford University Union competitions.  We can’t wait for the first debating fixtures of the year.

But even those who won’t actively seek out that next debate did emerge with a sense of discovery and confidence, a sense that seeking out challenges is rather fun and, in truth, what sixth form life is all about.

And that — to us— is what matters. 

 

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