By Rebecca Connet, teacher of English at MES
Debating plays an important role at ESMS. Every year pupils at The Mary Erskine School and Stewart’s Melville College bring home awards from competitions against schools across the UK and Europe and our debating clubs are among the most popular in the school. MES successes include winning the prestigious Scottish MACE competition, and this year, despite the challenges of Lockdown, five MES pupils were selected to represent Scotland at the European Youth Parliament National Finals.
Debating helps children to develop a wide range of critical thinking and communication skills. It teaches you to listen carefully to your opposition, skilfully plan a powerful argument and deliver it in a succinct way. It is about the art of persuasion, which requires you to think about an argument from the perspective of your audience and cherry pick the points that will resonate most strongly. And of course all this must be done at speed while simultaneously pre-empting your opponent’s next move.
As an English teacher I am only too aware of the importance of strong communication skills. The ability to express ideas and bring others on board is a vital life skill. It also helps to improve essay writing skills because pupils learn to develop and structure their line of argument in a more sophisticated way.
Debating also fosters confidence which is particularly important: while exam results will help to get our pupils their first job interview, it is confidence that will get them the job and confidence that will enable them to progress into leadership roles in their chosen career. This is important for all our pupils but it is particularly critical at MES. Representation of women in senior roles in the workplace is improving but at the moment under a third of women are in leadership roles in the UK and research suggests that confidence has an important role to play in this.
I have enjoyed watching our pupils grow in confidence over the course of their time in the Debating Club, learning to challenge even the most persuasive narrative and having the confidence to present an alternative viewpoint. It means that when they step out into the world, they will be able to form their own independent views and opinions.
Next year I will be focusing on the School’s European Youth Parliament Club. We have been selected to represent the UK six times and I am looking forward to developing this aspect of school life. EYP involves pupils directly in key issues affecting the world we live in and it allows the voices of young people – from across the EU and beyond - to be heard.
If your child is interested in Debating, I would encourage them to get involved. Look out for the Debating stand at your next club fair and open the door to a world of opportunities.