The Solefield School Debating Culture

Mrs Snow, Head of English

6th February 2021

On popping into a Year 8 English lesson last week, our Headmistress was delighted to see the boys debating the motion: 'Screen time has got out of hand'. In this blog, Mrs Snow writes more about why this skill is so important at Solefield.

Solefield boys take great pride in their public speaking skills and jump at the chance to have a debate. To say that the school has a strong debating culture would be an understatement. Debating at Solefield has become like a wave, gathering momentum with each public debate or event. The boys have become so skilled in rhetoric and persuasive techniques that very little teaching of persuasive techniques is now required; the boys often learn best from observing their peers and from listening to the most skilled speakers in the school.

Debating is part of the curriculum at Solefield. During Mrs Shanmuganthan’s weekly PPE (‘Politics, Philosophy and Ethics’), students discuss current affairs and engage with important global issues.  They debate topics of interest, prepare and deliver one-minute speeches and work as a team to create a school magazine called 'The Solefield Standard'. In English lessons, the boys hold debates and write speeches, focused on using targeted techniques such as: tripling, rhetorical questions, repetition, emotive language, statistics and contrastive pairs. The transferable skills acquired in debating benefit both subjects and motivate the students to become lifelong learners in other subjects too. All these skills stand them in good stead for the Common Entrance exams (where they are often required to write a speech) but, more importantly, for their adult lives. Whilst listening to the boys articulately state their views, one is reminded of the importance of fair discussion. I am always so glad to see the boys have this opportunity to challenge and explore new opinions and ideas.

Although the boys often consider a class debate to be a ‘treat’ or reward for excellent work, it is actually a highly educational and challenging experience. The boys develop a multitude of skills whilst participating in a debate. They become faster readers (as a result of their swift preparation). They also become adept at research and more aware of the world around them. Not only do they become analytical thinkers, they tackle their stage fright and learn to speak up for themselves. Practising tolerance and introspection, they subsequently learn to express empathy as well as to apply reason.  The skills the boys develop go far beyond leadership, teamwork and decorum. They learn to use their sense of humour and to master various story-telling techniques. In addition, they develop their critical thinking and higher order skills, constantly learning to be decisive and quick thinking. In debating, persuasion techniques are paramount, naturally. However, great emphasis is also put on ensuring that the boys also learn to evaluate a situation and consider conflict resolution. At the end of each debate, the boys provide constructive and courteous feedback for the opposing team, hereby demonstrating that each debate is a learning experience and that we support and guide each other along the way.

Solefield School participates in the annual national initiative 'UK Parliament Week'. Students are energised by the many exciting activities: exploring the history of parliament, staging organised parliamentary-style debates, creating their own political parties, running campaigns and holding hustings.  In Parliament Week, the school is abuzz with inspiring young debaters taking the lead in issues that matter to them.

For those who wish to engage in additional debates, we have the Debate Club. Due to popular demand, we have regularly run two Debate Clubs, in order to cater for the number of participants and range of age groups. The boys have also enjoyed formal public speaking. For two years in succession, we have been proud of our boys for participating in the Sutton Valance Public Speaking competition. On both occasions, Solefield School won the competition, but we took more pride in the commitment and confidence of the boys than we did in them holding the shield at the end. Our culture of debating and public speaking continues to grow and we have not let the Covid 19 restrictions prevent us from debating. In fact, using breakout rooms on Teams or Zoom is the perfect way to confer with your teammates to plan a team rebuttal.

Please click on the video below to more about debating at Solefield School.

If you are interested to learn some ‘Top Tips’ from one of the boys, please watch this video below. It was prepared by one our pupils for the younger debaters in the school; it is yet further evidence that the boys now learn as much from each other as they do from their teachers.