Case Study: Notre Dame High School, Glasgow
Notre Dame High School is a public Roman Catholic girl’s comprehensive with around 850 students.
Notre Dame have taken part in Debating Matters since 2005, and reached the Regional Final stage of the competition for the first time in 2010. We spoke to Sarah-Jane Brand who is the schools debate coach as well as, ‘in her spare time’, the school librarian, about how Notre Dame’s involvement in Debating Matters has helped to encourage a younger generation of debaters within the school.
Notre Dame Girls’ School have a Senior Debate Team, which competes in Debating Matters each year, and a Junior Debating Club - both of which are open to all pupils, regardless of experience or attainment. The Junior Debating Club is run once a week at lunchtime by Sarah-Jane and members of the Senior Debate Team, with the aim of juniors having fun sparring with friends whilst slowly building up formal debating skills. Sarah-Jane says that in a school with many competing clubs they have to work hard to secure the ongoing interest of their juniors, so says it’s important to keep things relaxed and fun, with plenty of games and simple (sometimes silly!) motions.
The Notre Dame High School team and teacher Sarah-Jane Brand (suspended, middle) at the Scottish Final, Informatics Forum, The University of Edinburgh, 5 March 2010
Last year, Sarah-Jane piloted an in-school tournament for the Junior Debating Club to promote debate more broadly within the school. Sarah-Jane felt the challenge was to give an opportunity to younger pupils to experience debating. The in-school format gives focus to debating skills, builds up a healthy competitive spirit and promotes debating throughout the school community.
Junior debaters were divided into teams, with two pupils from each House nominated to take part in the debate. Each team was mentored by a member of the Senior Debate Team, which enabled them to gain extra debate practice and, importantly, meant less work for Sarah-Jane! Sarah-Jane and the Senior Debate Team created two of their own simplified motions which they felt highlighted issues affecting young people – illegal downloading of copyrighted material and the school leaving-age.
Preparation for the tournament ran over six weeks and the juniors met with their Senior Debate Team mentors at lunchtimes in the library to develop their arguments, research their facts and write their speeches, with Sarah-Jane being on hand to offer advice to the mentors.
For the in-school competition she used use a shortened version of the Debating Matters debate format. Sarah-Jane says the ‘Debating Matters format best promoted ‘substance-over-style’ for her junior debaters, and the competition’s chairperson role helped gently guide the youngsters through the debate and so was perfect for first-time debaters. Sarah-Jane shortened the opening speeches to two minutes and halved the question time to fit two debates into an hour’s session – which was appropriate for the age group.
After securing the support of Notre Dame’s head teacher the debates were held in the assembly hall during an English period (with the additional support of the English department). Students not participating in the debate were in the audience to support their House teams, alongside their teachers. Sarah-Jane chaired and three of her teacher colleagues judged the debates – and in true Debating Matters spirit were told to spare no-one when it came to questioning, much to the dismay of the teams. The pupils took the debates very seriously, much more so than during the usual lunchtime club sessions due to the competitive nature of the debates.
Sarah-Jane says that ‘the tournament was really enjoyable and worth the extra effort on everyone’s part. The senior debaters contributed a lot of time and energy, but they gained an overview of the structure and depth of debating that can be difficult for them to see when competing in a debate. The juniors had a steep learning curve, but gained confidence and experience of competitive debating. It put their skills into context and they were able to recognise their strengths and also what they needed to work on.’
The use and support of the Senior Debate Team meant that the junior in-school tournament wasn’t a burden on teachers’ time, and the tournament really boosted the profile of the debating club within the school, encouraging not just more students to take part, but also offers of help from other members of staff. Sarah-Jane plans to re-run junior inter-school tournaments for the benefit of students throughout the school – the juniors debating and the seniors who learn to mentor, help and teach them.
What Notre Dame do:
- Run a senior debate club for Debating Matters
- Run a junior debate club to allow younger students the opportunity to debate
- Run a junior in-school tournament for those students too young to compete in Debating Matters, supported and mentored by the Senior Debate Team I
- nvolve the school’s management and other teachers in the junior in-school tournament