When I was asked if I would take on the challenge of setting up and running a debating club for KS3-5 students I didn’t quite realise what I was about to embark upon. After a nerve-wracking first meeting, to which three CV fishing year 11 boys showed up to, I was apprehensive about how successful this venture might be. After a lot of perseverance, persuasion and plugs in assemblies and lessons however, the second meeting rolled around but this time I was faced with a group of sixth formers, year 11s, year 9s and year 7s, and so began Canons Debating Club.
It was really encouraging to see lots of students who I didn’t teach at the club and I was immediately put at ease as students talked about some of the reasons why they’d decided to join, amongst these reasons were desires to improve speaking and listening skills, to help boost confidence talking in front of others and to meet other students from around the school and different year groups. It was particularly encouraging when I started to throw topic ideas at the group and they organised themselves into for and against through a variety of debating games such as debate circle and four corners voting. A lot of the students had never had the opportunity in a school setting to discuss and debate some of the controversial notions we raised, amongst which were: euthanasia, capital punishment, possession of fire arms and on one, more recent occasion, superheroes: actual heroes or just misleading icons?
From the outset the intention for the club was to not only provide an extra-curricular activity for students but also to establish a successful debate team who could compete at regional and national level, representing Canons at debating competitions. After a few warm-up sessions in which students got to know one another as well as me, I received the news that our application to enter the English Speaking Union (ESU) Mace Debating Competition had been accepted and we were soon hurtling full force towards our first competition.
As I begun to receive more information on who the competition hosts would be, who our team would debate against and what the motion would be I was anxious to share with the students the motion we would be proposing: ‘This house believes that football team supporter's clubs should lobby against the signing of players with a history of discriminatory or violent behaviour.’ A bit of a mouthful. I had, as I have come to realise time and time again with debate club, nothing to be anxious about. Immediately the students begun discussing how we could support the motion as the proposition and we all begun furiously planning and writing speeches, me included, and invited some of the English department to come along and watch some of the speeches and students who wanted to be considered for our team. After an encouraging and enjoyable demonstration from a number of members we voted for our two speakers: Lucy, a year 9 student and Fuad, a year 12 student and finally our first official Canons debating team was formed.
The entire debating club and I received so much support in the days surrounding the competition and although the mini-bus atmosphere was one of tension and nerves on the drive to the competition, it was an incredibly enjoyable evening that left me feeling so proud of our club and school. Our students put up an excellent fight in their debate against Chingford Foundation School, speaking with sophistication, passion and flair and although we didn’t win our debate our speakers were commended by both the chair person and the adjudicators for their enthusiasm and their potential as debaters new to the competition circuit. We even enjoyed a few humorous moments when Fuad, one of our speakers, ardently ‘denied’ rather than politely ‘declined’ every point of information offering from the opposition. After our debate we also had the opportunity to watch a live debate between two teams of year 13 girls from St John’s Senior school who have competed for several years, an experience that was invaluable for our new debaters and one which prompted one of our team to frantically make notes on how they were conducting their debate which she debriefed us all on at our most recent meeting. Suffice to say it was a fantastic experience attending our first competition and that was before we’d even had a chance to tuck into the complimentary canapés and quiche.
We jumped in feet first this term with our first competition but I am grateful that we did, it was certainly a steep learning curve but one that the students took in their stride confidently and left them feeling excited and enthusiastic to prove how far the promise and potential they already have could take us. Already on the lookout for the next competition, I have every confidence we will be ready to tackle whatever motion is thrown at us with even more passion, poise and conviction and who knows, we may even be ready to ‘accept’ some of those points of information!