Category Archives: debating

Of competitive gift-giving and my small wooden box.

The other day, an article from the Daily Mail crossed my path in the Twittersphere. Nothing strange there – Twitter has long been the safe haven of pedagogues and conspiracy theorists alike – but this one brought me up short. Here it is:

The gist is that some parents have raised the bar on gifts for teachers to an extent at which parents are feeling bullied into donating sums of money – around £5 to 10 – to buy a spectacular present for the class teacher. No matter Mr Windarse has not been the most effective teacher for little Hermione, the expectation is that a present costing around £150 is perfectly acceptable.

This brought me up short. I have never taught with an eye on the presents that some students offer at the end of term and I would be horrified if my colleagues were leaving copies of catalogues open on tables or working the terms “Chateau Lafitte” into writing tasks to encourage the little darlings. This is all wrong.

We don’t teach for the money (natch) and we don’t teach because there may be an exciting gift at the end of the process. I teach because i love it. I use all my energy and stamina during the academic year to engage with and to assist little Hermione in developing her skills and her awareness of her own abilities and her worth. It is a job that is utterly rewarding on its own terms.

The article made me think, however. I was leaving my school this year after 10 years and have been humbled and amazed at the moments of gratitude I have received. Not presents, but students I have taught stopping me in the corridor or emailing me or tweeting me to say “thank you”. Actually, I am amazed. I did not realise what an impact a balding, stoutish middle aged man could have. But this is the point. I don’t need huge presents. The look in the eyes of one delightful y12 girl who has not always made the right choices but who bursts with energy and latent ability is enough. The small child who gave me a carefully wrapped bar of chocolate said so much more than a parent consortium ever could.

And then there was the small wooden box.

This morning at 9.10 my feeling of humility and awareness of what an incredible profession we are in rose to a new level. I have seen nothing like this in ten years (and that includes the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt from the first VIP).
The Debating team arrived in my form room for a “photo”. They carried a small package which was passed over with some ceremony. I was a little apprehensive asI opened it in front of 20 pairs of eyes – we have all received “that” tie and been lost for words, I am sure- and unwrapped the plain paper to reveal a small wooden box. On the top was engraved the school crest and a dedication to me. Inside a further silver plaque which informed me that I was the owner of this “gavel set”. Under the padding a lovely gavel and rest. It seems that they had noticed that I often knock when timekeeping with my shoe or any other instrument that falls to hand. The whole thing had been designed and made by the students (long live RMT) and showed such obvious affection that I knew not what to do. How do you say thank you for a gift which is so clearly heartfelt and which shows such awareness of the hours that we put in to give the best opportunities to our children?

I am humbled and honoured to receive this gift. So, parents, if you really exist, compete by all means and buy teacher an i-pad or whatever you wish. Or, leave it to your wonderful children to touch their teachers’ hearts by not giving for the sake of it, but because we have touched them in some way. This is the reality of the situation. I do my job and I do not need a gift for doing so. When one arrives like this, however, it is enough to make me want to go on teaching for ever.



Thank you Daniel, Haleema, Simi, Alice, Charl, Vikkers, Melvin, Zaarah, Caitles, Mariam, Connor, Raz, Raman,
Devi, Ridds, Samraj, MAK, Zainab, Callum. You were a brilliant group who made me so proud, so often!


Filed under debating, Paedagogy

Debating Matters – really!

I have read a few posts recently about the value of debating in a school and wanted to add to the posts already here with another cry for debating to be taught as a discreet skill and not forced to flower amongst the weeds and detritus of a lunchtime club. I am so lucky at UCGS to get two hours every week with my Year 12 team – fully timetabled. This allows me to use the time to research and to debate, even to undertake a blind debate from time to time, due to helpful timetabling. Luxury.
Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric are the cornerstones of a serious Classical Education model. Not just a grounding of knowledge, but an ability to challenge perceived truths and to be able to express views coherently to an audience. I read recently the book Trivium 21c by Martin Robinson, a book that looks at the possibility of re-integrating the Trivium model into a 21st Century school and it is exciting stuff. Please get hold of a copy and read it, your eyes will be opened, if they aren’t already, to the power of debate.

I have added a link to the latest debate that my 12s have taken part in: This house believes Grammar Schools to be detrimental to the education system of the UK. Tricky stuff for Grammar School students!

OK, so the argument is not always deep and there are some shocking assumptions made about attitudes to Grammar Schools amongst the teaching profession which made me wish that I had taken more of a focused role in establishing the fundamental grammar of the argument, but I plead half term and the fact that I want this to be all their own work. Please, just enjoy the passion, the dialectic which emerges and particularly the rhetoric on display here. 16 and 17 year olds showing grit, experiencing flow and having a ball!

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trying a blind debate

One of the reasons I enjoy my school is the willingness of students to engage in developing their skills despite losing their lunchtime!

In order to try to develop skills in a blind debate, I had asked Year 12 to lose 20 minutes of their lunch to receive the motion. Due to the current news stories, I chose “THBT assisted suicide should be legalised with a degree of urgency”. The students had 20 minutes to prepare for this debate and I have linked to the results. Please enjoy Charlotte, Ridhi, Mariam, Simren, Callum, Daniel, Melvin and Connor. Not all are perfect examples of the art, but there is real strength here alongside developing talent. I will use them for teaching aids – please feel free to do the same.

Please feel free to send some feedback for these students – I am realy excited about this year’s Year 12 group – I’d love to hear some disinterested comment.


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Putting a Poem on Trial: At the Cenotaph and Futility

As part of their preparation for the AQA Lit B4 Critical Essay, Year 13 are about to put two poems on trial. The format will be that of a MACE debate (2 speakers per side and comment from the floor) and a vote will be taken.
The idea is to develop their understanding of Section C of the Critical Anthology. Beauty and Value in Literature.
Each student needs to prepare both sides of the following motion: THBT At the Cenotaph is more worthy of a place in an A level anthology than is Futility.

All the argument should be based on the poems themselves and the Critical Anthology, using the passage that begins on P29 and breaks down the criteria by which value is often established. Students should remember that their own POV is vital in this task.

The essays that are written at A2 require debate within them – there is no clear and simple answer to any question. My intention is that be externalising that debate, students will quickly see the relevance and power of “alternative viewpoints” when discussing literature. It seems obvious that there can be no clear answer to this question, thus the students will have to fall back onto the debate generated by the use of complex language, of metaphor, of complex ideas and onto the contexts of creation of both poems.

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Filed under AQA LitB 4, coursework, debating, poetry, teacher training

VIth form debating club

The videos from the debate THBT censorship has no place in a democracy can be found at this link:

5 of the 8 speeches were filmed and I hope you enjoy them. The development since September is astonishing – feel free to show them off!

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Year 12 Debaters – prisoners and votes

This material is to assist my yr 12 debating club. The debate is in Mace format to: This house would give prisoners the vote.
The debate here is lopdsided since it was a practice run for the OPPOSITION who are given longer to speak. There is no Proposition summary.

By all means listen, but please respect this material as very much work in progress.


Emma’s summary can be watched here:
The other speeches are on the edmodo debate group site.

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Slough Grammar School
A Guide to the 2012-13 Debating Season.

Welcome to debating – the cage fighting arena of the science of Rhetoric! During the year I hope to see you develop quick and lucid thinking as well as a confidence to present your opinion in a public forum and to argue your case in the face of strong opposition. You will learn to take the unexpected in your stride and you will also develop a wider point of reference in relation to current affairs and intellectual discussion.

If this sounds a bit daunting, then this document is meant to help by explaining a few of the basic tenets of the craft and introducing you to your two “Debate Captains” who will work alongside me to help develop your talents.
I am not just looking for speakers, but we will also need to develop the skills needed to act as Chair of a debate and to judge debaters as we prepare for competition.

EMMA FLINT: has impressed by her quick assimilation of ideas and her thoroughness in researching the debates. She speaks strongly and is not afraid to intervene in Points of Information. Her clarity of thought has made her particularly strong when opening a debate and outlining the parameters of any motion. She had a baptism of fire in a Berkshire competition at Eton, when she and RUPERT MAZAREANU came out as winners of a competition against teams from Eton, Wellington, Reading Blue Coats, St George’s Ascot and several others.
RUPERT MAZAREANU: has tended to display his skills in a different way. Always willing to find the lateral path to any motion, Rupert is also a brutal opponent when presenting points of information. He was yellow carded for rudeness in one Eton debate, but as the third speaker in a team, he is immensely strong, as well as being quick witted and intellectually acute.

Mr Peel is a middle aged English teacher who loves debating and will assist the two captains in honing your skills.

As a new venture, we do not have a vast amount of public exposure – yet.

We are entering teams in the following public competitions:
The ESU Mace debate (Usually around November)
The Oxford University Schools’ Debating Competition
The Cambridge University Schools’ Debating Competition
I am trying to arrange informal competitions among local schools for later in the year and will let you know as such events emerge.

The two weekly sessions will usually consist of one hour of discussion of possible motions, based on a presentation by a team member using either a recent newspaper article or a web article of interest. The second
hour will be a full debate to BRITISH PARLIAMENTARY rules, based on the material discussed earlier in the week.

The two formats of debate in common use are the MACE and the BRITISH PARLIAMENTARY (BP).

In this debate two speakers on each side argue the motion in turn. At the end of this, listeners are asked to make points or raise questions from the floor. These should usually be addressed to a specific speaker or team. To finish the debate, a single speaker from each side sums up the material presented and tries to include comment on some of the speeches from the floor.

This debate has four speakers on each side divided into two teams of two. (Confused?). Each speaker has a specific responsibility, as will be outlined below. The speakers proceed in turn and at the end of the debate, votes are taken without any speeches from the floor. The teams do not consult prior to the the debate and are in competition. They will be credited for seeking to link the arguments on each side.This will be the common format of debate in our classes.

Specific Responsibility:

This speaker must, as a priority, outline the parameters of the debate. For example, if debating a motion such as “This house would restore the death penalty”, it is vital to state under what circumstances and for what specific crimes this would apply. Failure to do so, will leave you open for any attack the Opposition care to make.
Once this has been done, use the Rule of Three: Tell us what you are going to say; say it; and summarise by telling us what you said.
Announce your key arguments, and then move to REBUT the previous speech. Find a weakness and attack the proposition on it. Then, using the Rule of Three, explore your points and sum up by reminding us what they were.

SECOND P: – Continue the argument…
Add two more arguments and refer to Speaker 1. Then move to rebuttal of Opp 1. Return to your speech and complete in the usual manner

Second O: As above…
THIRD P: DEVELOP THE ARGUMENT – seek and destroy.
About a third to a half of this speech should be an attack on the Opposition with the aim of utterly destroying their arguments whilst boosting your team mates. In the remainder of the time you should try to make at least one new point.

As above, the speaker needs to concentrate on rebuttal but should add to the debate.

The two FOURTH speakers are the summarizers. A good summary will recap the key points made by the previous six speakers and seek to formulate the arguments into a coherent whole. This pair of speakers may well prepare by considering the possible arguments, but will not be able to make a preconceived speech.


Speeches will last for 5 minutes each – time is a concern. Some competitions may allow up to 7. Speakers have one minute at either end in which they may not be interrupted. The middle three minutes may be interrupted by POINTS OF INFORMATION. We advise speakers to formulate an appropriate opening greeting and to get used to concluding with a request for listeners to support/reject the motion.

Structure is vital. One technique is to divide your arguments in the following way – find a social or ethical, an economic, an emotional and a reasoned argument for your response. In this way a clear structure can easily by established both in the opening and the conclusion of the speeches. We will work on this technique in the lessons.

POINTS OF INFORMATION may be made to encourage the speaker to clarify or enlarge upon a point. To make one, the debater bangs sharply on the table whilst calling out Point of Information. IF the point is accepted (speakers can decline!) he has 15 seconds to make a point/ask a question in response to the point just made. Once made, a POI is completed and can not be used as a basis for supplementary questions. IN competition, all speakers should try to accept two POIs in any speech and the re is also a requirement for all participants to make POIs. The Chairman will prevent “barracking” -the practice of asking a nyumber of quick and aggressive POIs without allowing the speaker a chance to make progress.


debate score sheet

Each speaker is marked out of 10 for a number of specific areas – the overall quality and organisation and the use of POIs. The SGS score sheet that we will use is attached.

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