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Home > News and views > ‘The ESU competitions have been transformative for students’ self-confidence and self-esteem’ 

‘The ESU competitions have been transformative for students’ self-confidence and self-esteem’ 


Teachers and students tell us about the benefits of the ESU’s various national competitions 

The ESU works with schools all over the country – last year just under 2,500 students in England and Wales were involved in our three competitions for secondary schools alone (the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition, the Schools’ Mace debating competition and the Performing Shakespeare Competition). Many schools choose to enter just one, but an increasing number, such as the De Aston School in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, a state school comprising 40 per cent pupil premium students, are opting for all three. ‘We love the ESU competitions,’ says Sarah Peacock, Head of English. ‘We’ve done Performing Shakespeare for the last four years and we’ve been in the national final three times out of four. We’ve also done the Public Speaking Competition and the Schools’ Mace for four years, and were invited to the House of Lords Chamber Debate in 2017. The students really enjoy the competitions. They get to have their voice heard on important topics and I think it’s been transformative for their confidence and their self-esteem.’ Simon Porter, headteacher at the school, agrees. ‘Through doing the ESU competitions, the students have stepped into a different level of oracy. They have harnessed the power of vocabulary and are able to adapt their vocabulary to a much greater range,’ he says. ‘I think the competition creates a climate for enjoyment of English as a subject, a sense of, “I do really well at this, I am empowered therefore it is a subject I will take”.’

Read on for more quotes from students and teachers alike about our various competitions:

Schools’ Mace 
‘Debating is great for life skills, great for university – it develops the students beyond the curriculum. Its value is immeasurable and to watch the students grow through each round of the competition is amazing.’
Finlay Murray, teacher, St Aidan’s High School, Harrogate

‘Debate has given the boys a voice they don’t have elsewhere at school. In a state comprehensive with 32 to a class, it’s difficult for students to give extended answers and be listened to. Debating gives them a chance to talk politics and international relations and it’s a real challenge for them, a challenge that they wouldn’t normally have.’
Clare Boughey, teacher, St Francis Xavier’s College, Liverpool

‘Through the Schools’ Mace we’ve learnt structured ways to get our point across to other people. It’s a more formal and educated approach to answering questions and finding the best solution.’
Arian, student, Woodside High School, Wood Green

‘The Schools’ Mace competition format means you can get into a lot of depth in your argument and really develop it well which makes it much more intellectually interesting. Also, because there are just two of you it’s much easier to have a proper debate.’
Sarah and Annabel, students, St. Catherine’s School, Bramley

‘The ESU has been very important in helping me to develop confidence in myself and in my own abilities. I got an offer from Oxford and being able to articulate my ideas to the professors there definitely helped. It’s an invaluable skill.’
Patrick Clarke, student, St Francis Xavier’s College, Liverpool

ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition 
‘It teaches confidence; the ability to structure and communicate an argument, which is really important when you’re in a workplace environment and you want to put forward your opinion or your point of view, and it helps students to work as a team as well. The format combines students from different schools. I think it’s quite rare that students speak to other kids their age, whom they don’t know, so it’s nice for them to get that experience as well.

‘For every competition the students do, they’re building in confidence which gives them the self-motivation to go out and do more extra-curricular activities. The more they do, the more they want to do, which is more challenging for students in my school, who are lower social and economic background state school students. It’s nice that they are experiencing, very clearly, schools that are from a very different background, seeing the differences, and also knowing that there isn’t as much a difference as they previously thought – they hold their own in the competition.
Grace Aldridge, teacher, Kensington Aldridge Academy

‘The competition gives students a sense of achievement and the skills to move into a better life.’
Bruce Hicks, Director of Music, Archbishop Beck Catholic College, Liverpool

‘The competition has taught me how to communicate what I’m thinking, how to make it concise and, crucially, to think about what I want the audience to get from it. It’s made me think about how what I’m saying can have an impact on someone else. It’s also given me a lot more confidence.’
Neha, student, St Helen’s School, London

Performing Shakespeare 
‘The competition is a great way for students to access Shakespeare before they have to do it for exams. It allows them to play with it; there are no rules, no pressure.’
Trish Gallagher, English teacher, Cardinal Heenan, Leeds

‘The competition delivers on the academic side but also on the ‘whole person’ side. We often talk about how boys underperform and underachieve, and we know that drama and boys is a perfect mix. The more of his we can do with the boys, the more of those knock-on benefits we get.’
Dan Jenkins, teacher, St Thomas More High School for Boys, Southend

‘What I’ve really liked about the competition is the people. It’s so mixed. There are different accents and people of different colours and nobody cares about your background or where you come from, you’re just treated as you.’
Tobias, student, Ditcham Park School, Hampshire

‘It’s helped me develop my skills not just in acting but in how to understand emotions. It’s made me more empathetic.’
Myra, student, Westbourne School, Penarth

‘It’s given me a better bond with my classmates – some of them helped me with learning my lines and that made us closer.’
Ryan, student, St Thomas More High School for Boys, Southend

We hope to see you at one of our competitions soon! Please find more details here, and if you have any questions, email competition@esu.org 

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