Page 12 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Hungry for Debate
Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire, extra-curricular activities include Sport, Music, Drama, Art, CCF and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. Yet, in a period of four years, the Debating and Public Speaking Group has become a favourite. Meeting every Thursday, at lunchtime, the club entertains an average of 45 to 50 students. Meetings in the winter months are larger. Debate is heavily represented in Years 12 and 13 with a banquet of students at Key Stage 4 and 3. Last February a debate on ‘right to life’ attracted almost 100 students, nearly 1 in 8 of the whole School.
Michael Benjamin, Head of Public Speaking and Debate, discusses the importance of public speaking and debate, and provides some thoughts on how schools can start or improve their own groups...
Michael Benjamin, Head of Public Speaking and Debate for Ratcliffe College, can be reached at 01509 817 000 or
Hungry for a Taste?
Sample Menu
A weekly debate is held Thursday, lunchtime. The topics are fresh each week and served hot.
House Public Speaking Championship
An internal competition featuring the Ratcliffe College Houses. Each House produces one champion from the Upper and Lower Schools.
Political style debates for Upper School and Lower School Television style political debate with moderator, principle questions, opening and closing statements, along with questions from the audience.
A spicy favourite.
The Championship: External Public Speaking Competition Offering exceptional competition, cash prizes, and the Ratcliffe Champion’s Cup.
A bold, complex taste.
Masterclasses for speech writing and debate.
Warning: very hot!
Ratcliffe College Headmaster, Mr Jon Reddin, with Dalila Watson(Yr 10), who called out social media for ‘silly sel es’ and a generation that is ‘locked in, shut down and sadly placid’ to win last term’s Public Speaking Championship.
 Bene ts of Debate &
Public Speaking
Debate is traditionally the preserve of adults. But stirring topics on the ‘challenges of our time’ are the currency of engagement for students excited with the thrill of ‘live’ debate.
Most, however, would prefer advanced Mathematics prep than to stand vulnerably in front of a group to speak. It is the danger and tension of performance
that makes the programme sing and it is, indeed, the making
of the young person. Stars are born in this environment and
the sweet after taste afforded
by the audience is - ‘Wow!’
For the student audience, it is accompanied by ‘I want that.’
In short, the programme allows the School to keep the students it has and recruit the students
it wants. It is a USP, in the way of being a movement. Just as contemporary music is annotated with political commentary
by today’s young artists, so too is this movement gaining momentum. A vanguard of tomorrow’s world leaders are moving forward today, excited to be heard. Able, Gifted and
How to serve up success
Talented students, as well as diligent others, with a  air for argument, love debate’s inherent danger and  uency. It simply percolates with the aroma of reality, intelligence and the chance to be signi cant at any address- No. 10, The City, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or Wall Street. Crucially, it supports con dence, and the ability to motivate large groups of people to do astonishing things-arguably the two foremost attributes to leadership.
Students at Ratcliffe College
have recently debated: abortion, hate speech v free speech, God,
the mortality of the book, the sexual revolution, the legalisation of marijuana, immigration, the general election, Brexit and sexual harassment. The commonality: all topics were leading the world news at the time of the debate. Ratcliffe College debates have been recorded and aired by the BBC.
The most recent debate, held just before Christmas, considered the proposition: Is the Monarchy irrelevant?
Two teams of Sixth Form Students evidenced oratory
de ance and defence of the Monarchy in front of an upper School audience of 200. The serene environment of Christmas decorations and contemporary holiday music belied a contested discussion.
For the Opposition, Matthew Garcia argued for the Monarchy, subtly noting the a-political status of the Queen, ‘Elizabeth has steered the United Kingdom across 16 Prime Ministers, terrible wars and both good and bad economic times; and she, along with the Royal family, invest their money in charities and raising money for charities.’
Barzin Alipourkarami, in clear opposition of the Monarchy, noted incisively, ‘The Monarchy’s presence is an understated and very clear af rmation to the world of Britain’s acceptance of social repression and the on-going notion of the rich supporting the rich. Furthermore, in response,
he added ‘the notion of the Queen’s charitable giving is not proportionate to her wealth, it is in nitesimal.’
The students voted by a majority of 64% in favour of the Monarchy.
  Steps to start or improve your Debating and Public Speaking group.
• Choose a committed leader, they can lead this as their extra-curricular
• Set the club up to run at lunch time, once per fortnight; best to hold weekly.
• Choose weekly debate propositions from top of the world news-only do sensational topics-avoid boring. • For sensitive topics, Headmaster must approve, or Father President, if a faith school.
• Issue proposition at 8am on the day of the debate to whole school teachers’ email and sell it in the staff room. • Debate Leader must be willing to work at recruitment and be a believer.
• Develop in stages.
• Very little budget required for  rst year; mature program may total £5-8,000 pa
 12 Independent Schools Magazine
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