Jon Kempton, Director of Admissions and Marketing at Langley School in Norfolk, tells us how he introduced debating and oracy not only to his school, but to 14 other schools in the area – all down to the power of pizza
Debating, speaking and listening are vital and exciting parts of what we do at Langley School. We encourage oracy through balloon debates, history heroes competitions, public speaking awards, our debating society and model diplomacy. All contribute to the development of confidence and the ability to create oral arguments. The ESU Schools’ Mace, ESU-Churchill Public Speaking and the ESU Performing Shakespeare competitions were the first that we took part in as a school and since then our students have gone on to England World Schools Debating trials, and the ESU Secondary School Exchange Programme to the USA. The rudiments of the work we do with oracy have been as a direct result of the framework that the ESU has provided for us.
But it wasn’t always like this. In January 2006, when I arrived at Langley School, it had no debating society and no background in this area; it had taken part in no competitions in its hundred-year history. Having been a keen debater in school, I knew this had to change. I spent a lot of my time trying to encourage my students to have, consider and share their opinions with one another – always with a view to being able to articulate what they thought but also, more importantly, why they thought it. By the end of the year had I created the ‘Inter-scholastic Debating Society’ – not a great name, but it did what it said on the tin!
Each term, we would host a debate and we would invite local state and independent schools to attend. From four schools, we soon became six, then eight, and, now, with the new name ‘Pizza and Polemic’ we have a society that stretches to 14 schools in Norfolk and Suffolk. Every competition or event I go to, I speak to the person most likely to be an organiser and invite them. We have two teams of five, each made up of students from different schools and age groups. The only other factor used is whether they are in the ‘Beginners’ or ‘Experienced/Veterans’ debate. We host both on the same evening, back-to-back. We have debated all sorts of topics, from vaccination to euthanasia, zoos to the abolition of independent schools, the failure of the United Nations to the ills of celebrity culture. Each school brings its own viewpoint and arguments, all voices are heard and views accepted.
Why does it work? Why do people come and why do they return? Pizza definitely plays its part. . .
We provide pizza for all attendees; tea, coffee, squash and then biscuits. We also give out an award to ‘best’ speakers on the evening (Kinder Eggs). All of these, along with the opportunity to listen to the views of others, meet new people and ‘be heard,’ probably makes it a success.
We based our original format on the ESU Schools’ Mace format and have continued to do so, riffing off it a little, using some of the best elements of other competitions – the direct questioning of another format, the shortened speeches of parliamentary style, as well as the floor questions and debate that plays such an important role in all forms. The rules and format are can be downloaded below.
What about the future? Where do we go next?
About ten years ago, we trialled language debates and we would like to re-introduce these, to promote development of languages in schools, as well as remove some of the fear of listening and speaking in a different language. We also want to commence training sessions for beginners – starting an hour before the debates, inviting young people who are keen to begin their journey in debating with a little pre-event coaching. We are very keen on model diplomacy, having taken up Model United Nations in recent years and seeing the impact it has on engagement of young people in the world around them. So, encouraging young people who are not necessarily knowledgeable about the world at large to think a little deeper in this area would be my next aim.
It is important to note that Pizza and Polemic only happens because of the staff who go ‘above and beyond’ in their roles. Oracy is still not a recognised term by many schools, except as an add on or a marketing ploy, although it is wonderful that we are seeing real change starting, not least thanks to the work of the ESU, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy etc. The staff who hold lunchtime clubs, enter competitions and provide the opportunity for young people to ‘discover their voice’ make it successful; all they need is a vehicle and, oh yes, pizza.
Jon is very happy for any teacher to contact him for advice on setting up such a model. Please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from other schools with tips and ideas on how they get their students talking, please do drop us a line at email@example.com.