Hinchingbrooke School is a comprehensive secondary school and sixth form in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. It has roughly 2000 pupils
Sarah Spikesley is a teacher at Hinchingbrooke school. This article has been co-written by Sarah and Alice, our Head of Programmes.
THE BIG IDEA
Peer Coaches in Literacy
What are peer coaches?
Whilst our debating society is only a three years old, its success can be attributed to the unending enthusiasm and energy from our peer coaches. We began with a small group of Year 11s entering local competitions and speaking at school events culminating in a grand mock Parliament day whereby we performed a debate in front of the whole school. Once students had ‘caught the debating bug’ the next question was how to harness and expand this enthusiasm to include more students and maximise impact (quite a feat when your school is our size!).
So, we decided to launch a whole school Literacy project because when we interviewed students about how they would like to be supported with their Literacy, they requested to be partnered with a peer; someone who had overcome the same obstacles they faced and understood the challenges of all parts of Literacy from writing to speaking. In this endeavour, our orators were key and exponentially improved the confidence of students struggling with Literacy. At our peak, we had over 300 students involved in the programme with students in Year 10 and 11 coaching students in year 7,8 and 9. We also appointed Sixth form team leaders who were integral to overseeing the event in our library during pastoral time when we were hosting up to 100 students per session.
For the last two years we have entered teams into the PiXL Up for Debate competition and students have enjoyed their experience so much that they keep coming back to coach the next cohort as they still want to be involved. Our older students have gone from speaking in the competitions to learning how to judge and score. Now that we have three different Year groups all coaching one another, we are also excited to launch a new initiative for MAT students in our Feeder Primary schools. We will host a debating competition at Hinchingbrooke House and our Year 9 and 10 debaters will be going into our Partner Primary schools to teach, coach and model debate for prospective Year 7 students (see below).
Are there any other oracy and debating activities happening at the school?
We continue to debate for fun and to prepare for the ‘Up For Debate’ competition but we are also looking to embed Oracy and continue to make it fun and exciting. For our experienced debaters who are now approaching Year 11 and Sixth form, we hope to offer the English Speaking Board qualification so they can further their debating journey. We hope to expand Oracy into more lessons into the English curriculum and pastoral time so that oracy becomes part of everyday lessons rather than a seasonal event when the competitions start. Such has been the success of the competitions that many students approach us wanting to get involved now, so our next challenge is keeping the momentum going! Coaching has been fantastic in this regard since students all support one another and we can include many more students. Whilst our coaches often speak at school events, we also wanted to challenge them to a new project outside of school and competition and will be taking them into Primary schools next week whereby they will be assigned a Feeder school to coach for a grand competition we will hold here later this summer. Our coaches will perform a ‘comedy’ debate to model the skills and we will release a motion for the Primary school students to prepare for. Our debaters are very excited at the prospect of sharing their skills!
Is debating an important part of life at Hinchingbrooke?
Debating is a skill that we promote heavily here at Hinchingbrooke; we try to offer CPD on how to include speaking and listening in classrooms and we try to address the myths about speaking and listening. There is compelling research to suggest that developing Oracy skills has a significant impact on the development of literacy skills as a whole and we have fully embraced this in our whole school Literacy plan. Crucially, in addition to developing curricular skills like Literacy and current affairs we have seen exponential growth in the confidence and teamwork skills in our students; essentially, their love of debate has impacted their lives in a number of ways.
What Other Schools Can Learn from Hinchingbrooke
All schools could imitate Hinchingbrooke’s initiatives. For example they could:
- Use peer leaders to help promote key speaking and listening skills
- Sign up to a programme like PiXL Up For Debate and work through a debating-focussed scheme of work in English classes
- Involve local primary schools in oracy projects
If you would be interested in taking part in the Up For Debate programme next year, or want to discuss ways your school can embed debating into the curriculum, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org