How Debating helps you do better at school

This week’s guest blog is written by Julian Bell, Head of English and Debating at Godolphin and Latymer School and writer of the blog 


When I was at school, 90% of lessons consisted of us sitting there listening to a teacher who told us stuff which we wrote down. If we were lucky, he could keep good enough order for us to hear it all, and if we were even luckier, he made it interesting. Then, when we’d written it down, we learnt it off by heart, and wrote it all out again in an exam. The more we managed to remember, the higher a grade we got. The only time I got to express my views – the only time, almost, apart from break times and lunch times, I got to speak – was in the debating club.

It’s different now. Students are encouraged to take much more part in their learning, to be much more active, to work collaboratively, to engage in discussion. However, there’s still material to be covered, syllabuses to be completed, exams to prepare for. It can feel a bit like being a hamster on a treadmill.

Here’s where your debating club comes to the rescue. None of the stuff you talk about in debating club will ever be in an exam. You’re free to try and to fail, to get things right and get things  wrong, and your future doesn’t depend on it. You don’t have to remember any of it once the debate’s over.

And yet, at the same time, debating club will send you back to your lessons better prepared to succeed in them.


What we call humanities subjects – English, History, Geography, Philosophy and Religion – all require you to build arguments step by step, supported by evidence, taking nothing for granted. That’s what debating does too. A lot of the issues you will discuss in those subjects – big topics about what’s right and wrong, about how the world should be run, about what we can and can’t know – come up in debating. And don’t forget languages, and maths and science subjects. They require you to think logically and clearly, to go from one concept to another in a methodical way: so does debating.

So, when you come out of debating club and go back to your lessons, you’ll find that your subjects will make more sense, that you will know more about them, that you will be more confident in expressing your views in them, and that your essays will be clearer, better planned and better argued. I’m an English teacher, and I can always tell which of my students does debating, from the clarity and rigour of their writing. Debating is not only great fun, it also makes you smarter at school.

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