Debating has always formed a vibrant part of the curriculum at Alsager School, with students discussing the broadest range of topics imaginable, from the importance of Beethoven versus the Beatles, to the merits of different sources of energy in science. However, over the last two years, students have been encouraged to renew their focus on the persuasiveness of their language in addition to studying the merits of their arguments.
Regular form time debating sessions have shown all students the impact of the imagery that they use in persuasive speech and familiarised them with techniques employed by the best public speakers through history, to persuade, coerce and cajole their audiences into agreement. The topics covered in these sessions were chosen by the students and often centre around national and international awareness events selected by them.
From these sessions a lively extracurricular debating program has emerged. Two lunch time debating clubs offer all students the opportunity to meet and debate recognised parliamentary debating structures. Whilst an after-school club focusses on national debating competitions.
The first round of one such competition, the English Speaking Union’s Mace, took place via Zoom in early November. Our team took on teams from Co-op Academy Stoke-on-Trent, Denstone College, Newcastle under Lyme School, Repton School and Littleover Community School with the top 4 schools to progress to the next round.
We debated against Newcastle, proposing the motion “This house would ban the use of digital manipulation in advertising, including social media ad content”. Hannah (year 12) opened, skilfully limiting the motion to a ban on the manipulation of human models and products, before embarking on an impassioned explanation of the ethical reasons for a ban on digital manipulation. Her analysis, timing and emphasis demonstrated her growing confidence as a public speaker. Sam (year 10) spoke second, responding to the points of Newcastle’s first speech before turning to the practical justifications for banning digital manipulations. He was the only speaker of the night to raise a laugh from his audience when he recounted catchphrases from 90s adverts, whilst lamenting the loss of the marketing executive’s skill, caused by the reliance on digital manipulation. Sophie (year 10) may have had the hardest job of all, as her role was to summarise the competing arguments in such a way as to secure the win for us. She distilled our arguments in compelling fashion, drawing respectful attention to the deficiencies in the Newcastle attempts to counter those points. Both Newcastle and ourselves were put through to the next round, with Denstone and the Co-op Academy sadly failing to progress this year.
Headteacher, Mrs O’Neill, said: “Our students are relishing the opportunity to use their subject knowledge, critical thinking skills and persuasive techniques to present compelling arguments. Our competitive team were the embodiment of the values of Alsager School and displayed a mix of ability and kindness that we expect of our students.”
Hannah said: “It was lovely to be able to put the skills I have learnt in lessons, particularly English, into practice in crafting my speech. I was very nervous but when I began to speak, I realised that my preparation allowed the words to come naturally and it felt great.”
The team look forward to the next round of the competition in January.