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Case Study: Loreto College, Manchester

Loreto College is a sixth form college primarily catering for young Catholics aged 16-18, but which also educates young people of different faiths. The college has approximately 2000 students.

Loreto College have taken part in Debating Matters for many years, and over the past four years the college’s students have been supported and encouraged by Fran Tattersall, Head of ICT and Computing. In that time Loreto has established a thriving debate club, engaging students from across the college. We asked Fran to tell us about the dynamic debate culture at Loreto, and how it all started.

“Over the last four years, Debating Matters has been the seed crystal around which a thriving Loreto Debate Club has grown. We now meet every Tuesday lunchtime, come rain or shine; and having started out with a few students in a class room, we now regularly have forty or more students and have moved into the theatre. Each week follows the same format – a teacher as chair, two speakers on each side giving a prepared two minute speech, followed by a floor debate and then summing up. The final result is decided by an audience vote. 

We start each year in September with a ‘veterans’ debate. For this, we invite our alumni of the Debating Matters Competition to return and debate a particularly eye-catching and controversial motion. This year the issue was whether the Sun was right to publish the infamous photos of Prince Harry in Las Vegas. After that all debates are advertised across the college campus. By the end of the autumn term, 20 or more students will have spoken. What is wonderful is the way that Debate Club attracts students across the whole ability range, and from all the different courses we deliver, including students with learning differences. One of our most memorable and well-attended sessions to date was in March 2011, when at the students’ urging we debated Britain’s involvement in the Libya no-fly zone; several Libyan students spoke very movingly. On a lighter note, we have also established a tradition of fund-raising comedy balloon debates, which we hold as part of the college’s Charities Week.

This year, for the first time, we decided to introduce an element of competition; from January to June, we ran a knock-out tournament. We plundered the Debating Matters free Topic Guide resources (thus ensuring a level playing field when it came to accessibility of materials for research) and introduced a panel of judges each week. We invited specialists from different departments to judge topics where they had particular expertise, alongside regular Debate Club teachers – and so chairing duties passed to the students, which was another positive development. We also ran a ‘Debate Day’ activity for a small number of students from two local schools; they worked in teams to prepare speeches on topics we gave them on the day, and then competed in several small debates that ran simultaneously.  Our lower sixth students helped with preparation and comically illustrated the ‘do’s and don’ts of debating’ in a demonstration debate. The school students really enjoyed it and wanted more – so we are hoping to host a ‘Debating Matters’ style competition later this year.

As our club has grown, the preparation for Debating Matters has got easier; we now have a pool of experienced debaters keen to take part, and others who want to be part of the competition and the preparation even though they don’t want to speak. The preparation does take a lot of time, as weekly debates carry on in the meantime. While it’s the student team who ultimately put in the hours, it is a labour of love for staff as well, from those who offer their expert subject knowledge, to those who are happy to give up a lunchtime to listen to the work in progress and ‘grill’ a team.

One tutor said to me recently that when he reads the weekly notices to his tutor group, they always end up discussing the week’s motion. Getting students arguing about things that matter – what more could you ask for?”

What Loreto College do:

  • Meet once a week, without fail, for a student debate
  • Hold a ‘veterans’ debate at the start of each school year, with former college students
  • Run a knockout intra-school tournament in the spring and summer terms
  • Host an annual comedy fundraising ‘balloon debate’

FURTHER HELP

Read more of our schools case studies, and tell us about debating at your school - email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Have you been inspired to start a debate club at your school as a result of these examples? If so, please let us know!

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