Every school should have a debating society: discuss

29th March 2013 at 00:00
Encourage students to express their views and make their case well. It's a skill they will always need

No argument: every primary and secondary should have its own debating society, and every child the chance to watch, or participate in, public speaking. I make this suggestion after watching two teams of talented school orators debate whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote.

The children were informed, passionate and skilled. Opinions were exchanged and points challenged in a brilliant evening that was enjoyed by an audience of more than 100 students, teachers and parents.

I know of a primary head who decrees that if children have an idea for improving their schooling, they have to stand up at assembly and make a case. Children have presented compelling arguments for class trips and longer playtimes.

Preparing a speech encourages students to think logically, analytically and effectively. It develops confidence and self-esteem. It is part of being a responsible citizen. Debating encourages children to listen to other views and speak out on subjects that they care about.

Oratory and rhetoric are two of Scotland's proudest traditions and the reason why our small country has produced so many prime ministers, lawyers, football managers and effective headteachers.

Yet debating groups in schools are becoming rarer. While debating societies thrive in independents, many local authority secondaries have little to do with debating and public speaking competitions.

Most schools organise inter-school football and netball competitions, so why not debating contests as well? Public speaking is an improvable skill, yet many students leave school with poor speaking skills and a reluctance to express their views.

One of the most disappointing school open days I attended involved children giving presentations about topics they had worked on. Their written work was excellent but their oral presentations were dire. They mumbled, their shoulders were hunched and they failed to communicate. The teacher said they were nervous. In my opinion, they hadn't been properly prepared and could have done better. It was a failure of learning and teaching.

The new curriculum provides more opportunities for developing talking skills and there are useful activities teachers can use to help sharpen speaking skills.

Debating groups are useful showcases of what students are capable of achieving and help to raise standards of public speaking and debate. The debating competition I saw established that children are capable of understanding complex arguments and thinking and speaking for themselves.

John Greenlees, Secondary teacher.

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