Case Study: Ibstock Place School

Ibstock Place School (IPS) is an independent school for ages 4 to 18  in South-West London. Our Head of Programmes, Alice, spoke to Sutherland Tutor Kevin Darlington who  focuses on  enrichment activities at IPS. 

Debating Lessons

What are  debating lessons? 

Each week all students in Years 7 and 8 have a lesson,  taught by Kevin, which is called ‘Ethics, Rhetoric, and Debating’. In this lesson they learn key analytical and public-speaking skills and debate a controversial and engaging topic.

How do the lessons work? 

For the first 10 weeks in Year 7, Kevin slowly teaches the students the skills they will need for debating. They practice discussing ideas, working as a team, and listen to and watch famous speeches (e.g Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’). They will then begin to analyse the techniques and language which speakers use.

In lesson 8 or 9, he will show them one of our videos. The real ‘aha’ moment for students is when they see debaters doing rebuttal and offering points of information and they realise that

Mr Darlington is going to let us argue!!!

Once they’ve got the skills and know the format then the proper debates  can begin.

Students arrive to the lesson and divide themselves into 4 groups, equally divided in terms of number and gender. The motion is announced and students then have 15 minutes to come up with six proposition arguments and six opposition arguments. Sometimes Kevin will hand out a prompt sheet halfway through to help students formulate ideas. Occasionally the motion will have been announced a fortnight in advance and students are then expected to have researched the topic and written ideas in their own time. Recent topics include This House Would Ban Tattoos and This House Would Not Treat Cancer Sufferers Who Are Smokers.

After 15 minutes, Kevin announces the proposition and opposition teams (4 speakers on each team). Different students debate each week. He also announces the two judges, a chairperson, and  a timekeeper; again the students change roles every week. The debaters get an extra 5 minutes to prepare. Meanwhile the rest of the students set up the classroom and are all given peer-judging sheets.

For Year 7 debate speeches are 2 minutes long, stretching to 3 minutes by the end of Year 8. After the debate the judges give their result and feedback. The audience also get to vote – sometimes they agree with the judges, sometimes not, which often becomes a topic for discussion in of itself. Kevin then gives feedback to everyone on their performance during the lesson and nominates a ‘Most Valuable Player’ – a student who has really shone in the lesson.

What are the benefits of the lessons?

Students slowly become more confident at speaking in public and expressing their own opinions persuasively. Kevin notes that every year there is always one

timid child in Year 7 who by the middle of Year 8 is up on their feet every lesson demanding that the speaker answer their POI…. It is a confidence builder.

In addition students develop their team work and listening skills. When in the audience or judging, they have to learn how to give constructive feedback to each other, fostering great peer learning opportunities. Finding out the topic on the day means they learn how to work under pressure which is a key skill for debating competitions and for life. In contrast, the occasional advance announcement of motions allows students to work independently and develop their research skills.

Kevin emphasises that the key benefit of the lessons is that students regularly and consistently work on all of these skills. If students debate occasionally, then those infrequent lessons can be approached by some students with a real sense of fear –  and stress on the day prevents them from concentrating on developing those skills. However, if giving a 2 minute speech is an ordinary and regular part of the school experience, then it stops becoming such a ‘big deal’ in the minds of the students. Of course some students will be more engaged than others, but each and every pupil will take part in several debates over the course of the two years.

Is debating an important part of life at IPS? 

Kevin’s lessons equip students with the skills necessary for debating and knowledge of the format. This allows many other staff members to run debates within their lessons, confident that students know the rules and can really focus on the key debates and arguments within the subject.

IPS has a junior and senior debating society and frequently enters teams into competitions. There is also a House Debating competition every year. House masters pick two students to represent their house and the debates are held during lunchtimes in Summer term, so that their peers can watch and support them.

What Other Schools Can Learn from Ibstock Place 

All schools could imitate Ibstock.  For example they could:

  • Offer debating lessons, or run an enrichment day where everyone practices debating skills
  • Sign up to a programme like PiXL Up For Debate and work through a debating-focussed scheme of work in English classes
  • Use our videos to teach your students about the debating format – we have videos of the 3 v 3, British Parliamentary and World Schools’ Format
  • Organise and run internal debating competitions – possibly having senior students judge and organise the competition

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 lessons, please contact

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