Dale Collet, an English Teacher from the Abbey School, Faversham, shares how the school Debating Club has benefited from a series of debate workshops run by the University of Kent:
"Deflated, disappointed, devastated. Those were the feelings of myself and the group of year 10s from the Abbey School, Faversham at the end of the first-round of the English Speaking Union (ESU) Public speaking Competition in November of last year.
The pupils had worked immensely hard on our speeches for the weeks preceding the competition which our school was entering for the very first time in our history. The students had spent their lunch times and after-school researching and crafting their speeches so that they were finely polished essays about the topics they had been given.
We felt quietly confident that at least one if not both of the teams we had entered would get through to the next stage of the competition. It turned out our optimism was misplaced.
The mini-bus journey back to school was plagued with a feeling of complete disappointment. We did not understand- we had done our best and the arguments and ideas the pupils had put together were, in my (albeit biased) opinion, far better than those of the teams which had got through.
The thing the judges had picked out on was a lack of confidence in presenting the ideas and engaging the audience that was where we had fallen down.
The next day it was obvious that the Year 10s were not defeated nor deterred. They would enter next year and they would try their hand at debating as well and see if they could succeed at that discipline. They would get better and they would do better in the future.
The school’s contact at the ESU passed the name of Marta Almeida from the University of Kent, suggesting that the University could offer workshops to help the students improve and hone their skills.I got in contact with Marta and the workshops were organised for after school on a Tuesday.
The year 10s were eager to make a schoolwide success out of these. ‘Why don’t we see if some of the lower years want to join as well?’ one of the year 10s asked. And so, invitations were sent out to some of the pupils in year 7, 8 and 9 as well.I was anxious about how this would pan out: would the younger students be intimidated by the older ones? Would they refuse to work together? I was glad to be proven wrong.
Over the course of eight weeks Marta and her team from the University came along to run the workshops. We looked at how formal debates are organised, how to research for a debate, how to put together a cohesive argument and much more.
Each week the pupils came: the year 10s and several year 7s and 8s as well. As each week went the pupils became more and more confident. Students from the different year-groups worked together in teams: supporting each other, building on each other’s ideas and even, in the spirit of debate, politely and constructively challenging one another.
As time went on and the pupils had more practice and guidance from the University’s team their speeches became longer, they spoke with more confidence and they had more confidence to challenge each other in points of order. The pupils kept coming and they kept rising to the challenge, working together to support each other and help each other grow. It was truly heart-warming to see.
The workshops have come to a close now but we are still meeting every week after school on Tuesdays. The pupils are still eagerly debating, putting the skills they have developed over the weeks into practise as they strive to get even better.
There is no doubt that the workshops have done so much for the pupils: though it is obviously the pupils who can tell you this much better than I can. When I asked one of the pupils about the workshops they had this to say: ‘Thanks to this experience, I have managed to develop my basic debating skills. I also had a lot of fun whilst doing it.’
Another pupil said: ‘Debating has made me confident with having to think quickly, this will really help me in the future.’
A third said it ‘has further increased my love for debating. I would definitely say the club has been beneficial to me’.
We are going to enter a national debating competition next academic year and have also offered to host the first round of the Public Speaking competition as well. The year 10s, with their newly- recovered confidence feel positive they’ll do better next year. I am quietly hopeful that they will as well.
Regardless of success in tournaments however, the debating workshops have benefited them in so many ways that are worth far more than any trophy and that will last them far longer than the glorious yet fleeting moment of victory.
Their commitment, team-work and drive make them champions in my eyes and the skills and confidence they have picked up over the course of those eight weeks will last them their entire lifetimes."