Case Study: Whickham School & Sports College, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear
Whickham School & Sports College is a comprehensive with around 1700 pupils. It has the largest Sixth Form intake in the area.
Whickham have taken part in Debating Matters since 2005/06, and have made it through to Regional Final level. We spoke to teacher Dan Crosland, Head of English, about debating at Whickham.
Dan told us that the school, and in particular the English department, have always been keen on encouraging extra-curricular learning, and so when Debating Matters invited Whickham to take part in the competition it provided the perfect opportunity. Over the past few years the debate club has become more formal because of its initial involvement with Debating Matters, as well as other local and national competitions and initiatives, and the focus of a competition means interest in the debate club is sustained throughout the year, rather than fizzling out after an initial flurry of interest at the start of the school year. Before Debating Matters Whickham had done a number of public speaking competitions but Dan says this isn’t the same thing as ‘debate’, so he sees the school’s debate club as a genuine development of their involvement with Debating Matters.
Whickahm’s involvement in Debating Matters and other events means that debate is now recognised within the school timetable, being an extra-curricular elective class that students can chose to do on a Wednesday afternoon, as well as being a formal part of their Year 12 curricular enhancement programme. The debate club is also advertised in the school prospectus, as well as during school induction – students are then left to be self selecting and choose to contact Dan or his colleague Kate if they are interested. Dan says this is a significant shift, as in the past the debate club was sustained with the good will and support of other teachers to cover for Dan and his colleague Kate. Dan is convinced this is a result of the kudos now attached to debating within the school, which has been raised over the past three years, and he feels there is a real dynamic of discussion and debate, especially within his own English department. Dan was also able to secure some funding from the Gifted & Talented fund as many of his students are on the G&T register – this is not a huge amount of money, but it does help the school cover some of the travel costs associated with external competitions.
The 2006/07 Whickham School team with teacher Dan Crosland at the North East Regional Final, Newcastle University, April 2007.
Whickham’s debate club holds weekly meetings for sixth formers for debate and discussion, and their energies are very much focussed around external competitions and projects, such as the Mock Trial debates at Newcastle Crown Courts, Cambridge Union workshops, and other local public speaking competitions, as well as Debating Matters of course. Dan hopes to be able to offer something similar to younger students in the near future.
Dan says that although the school doesn’t run a formal in-school competition, it does keep in touch with other schools it encounters at Debating Matters events. This offers the opportunity to meet up outside the formal competition to continue to allow his students the opportunity to debate with their peers from other schools after they have been knocked out.
Dan doesn’t have to put in too much extra time to help support the debate club – he says there is ‘bags of dynamism from the students to make this happen – they are very keen to get involved’ – and there is a core team of about 15 students who are supplemented weekly with less regular club attendees. But Dan feels that it is necessary to provide some mediation for the club’s discussions, to give a sense of levity, subtly and sophistication which, he says can occasionally be lost in their clear passions for an issue!
Those less keen on debating can do research and support those who are using DM resources and motions which provide structure for the debate club.
Dan says he thinks the best way for a new school to start their own debate club would be to visit a school that already has one, and see what it looks like, and he would certainly invite his colleagues in the North East into Wickham to see what they do. He would also suggest all schools new to debating take a look at the Debating Matters website to see how a debate might be structured, and to access our freely available schools resources for debate.
What Whickham do:
- Hold weekly debate club meeting as part of the school timetable
- Take part in a wide range of competitions and events to give their students the fullest debate experience
- Secure funding from Gifted & Talented to help with costs associated with attending external competitions