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Why debating matters more than ever

Vicky Bingham, headmistress of South Hampstead High School GDST, recently appointed a director of debating and public speaking to help champion oracy at the school and provide more opportunities for pupils in the local community to develop confidence, critical thinking and skills of argumentation. Here she explains why speaking up and speaking out is so important.

Most independent schools will have some sort of debating club, and many will enter some of the big debating competitions. But how many schools really see it as a cornerstone of their co-curricular provision? Debating is all too often the poor relation to Music, Sport and Drama – ‘worthy’ but ultimately not quite as much fun.

Luckily organisations such as the English-Speaking Union and Debate Mate have been working hard to challenge the traditional image of debating, making it accessible to state schools across the UK. At South Hampstead High School we are proud to be playing our part in this endeavour too. This year, in partnership with the English-Speaking Union, we have set up a local debating hub with six local state schools. The idea was to do for debating what schools invariably do for sport – organise regular fixtures and friendly competitions so that novice debaters could gain more practice.

Debating is arguably the most important co-curricular activity a school can offer, especially for young women. It teaches them to enjoy winning arguments, it brings out a combative side, and above all it breeds confidence.

If schools don’t want their female students to be the victims of mansplaining in their future careers, they should pay attention to their debating provision. We encourage physical competitiveness all the time on the sports field, but we rarely set enough store by its intellectual equivalent.

And yet the skill of persuasion is needed all the time. You might not stand up in the workplace and say “on a point of information”, but it always helps to be persuasive. Being able to demonstrate that a particular initiative will have the desired impact requires an understanding of cause and effect, something debaters explore all the time. Being able to return to the central point of the issue can bring a salutary dose of pragmatism to a meeting that has lost the plot.

Above all, debating forces participants to consider alternative points of view – something, in the current global political climate, that is perhaps more pressing than ever.

Article featured in The Week Independent Schools Guide Spring/Summer 2019 



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