Swakeleys School for Girls is a comprehensive secondary school and sixth form in Hillingdon, London, teaching students between ages 11 and 18. It has 1200 pupils and has been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Noisy Classroom Head of Programmes, Alice, visited Swakeleys in January 2017 to find out all about their oracy good practice.

School Council Meetings

What is school council?
School council at Swakeleys is a whole-school affair. Every form (6 per year) elects a form councilor who attends meetings and votes on issues. There are also sub-committees that focus on specific areas of concern, including sports, oracy, charities, and finance.

What are the School Council Meetings? How do they involve oracy?  

Once every half-term there is a large school council meeting, lasting for an hour and a half. One form from each year attends, as do all the form councillors and school council chair and vice-chair.

At these public meetings each sub-committee gives a brief oral report on activities and decisions. There is also a public debate, followed by a lively floor debate. January’s topic was ‘This House Would Ban Beauty Pageants’ and the floor debate lasted almost half an hour!

This a great opportunity for formal oracy practice. There is a set agenda, and the whole meeting is chaired by the chair of school council (a sixth form student). Students are involved in the school leadership process and learn about all the important work the council is doing.

The public debate is a super way to showcase some of the schools top debating stars. All the speakers in January’s debate were in Year 7 but still gave incredibly impressive performances. In the floor debate, each speech must begin with ‘Madame chair, members of council, followed by the speakers name and form, and then finally the speaker makes their point’. Participation in the floor debate is further incentivized by awarding every speaker a house point.

The meeting is organized by students, managing every process from the agenda, to the PowerPoint, to the microphones. Students are helped – where necessary – by teacher Gilly Hare.

The forms that don’t attend the school council meeting have in-form debates on the same topic as the show debate, helped by some videos that prompt thinking on the topic. All students in Swakeleys spend period 1 focussing on the same debate topic, ensuring an hour every half term when the whole school is thinking about oracy and debating.

How does Swakeleys focus on oracy across the school?

On every student’s book, for every lesson, is a sticker noting what kind of a speaker they are, e.g. ‘quiet speaker’ or ‘over-assertive speaker’. These categories correspond with a chart, in student’s planners and on an A3 poster in every classroom, describing the type of speaker and suggesting ways they can improve.

There is a whole-school ‘word of the week’. Students are expected to learn the definition of the word, how to spell, and how to use it in conversation. They are tested on the spelling and definition in their tutor groups. Additionally, if they approach the head teacher during any breaktime, and tell her about the word and can spell it and use it confidently in conversation, they are awarded a house point.

Debating is not restricted to the weekly club. Every staff member has been trained by Lawrence in using debate as a pedagogical tool, ensuring the classroom debates are the norm rather than the exception.

Oracy isn’t only staff led. The student-run school council oracy sub-committee recently organized and ran a school assembly on oracy, telling students why it was important and explaining how students can improve their own speaking and listening.

What about the PiXL Up For Debate programme?

Swakeleys took part in the inaugural Up For Debate competition and narrowly missed out on a place in the national final. I spoke to the team and they were all extremely enthusiastic about debating with one student saying that the competition was:

very very nerve-wracking, but that’s kind of what made it enjoyable. It is definitely one of the best things I’ve done.

What Other Schools Can Learn from Swakeleys School For Girls

All schools could follow parts of their programme. For example they could:

  • Have school council meetings that are opened up to more of the school
  • sign up to a programme like PiXL Up For Debate and work through a debating-focussed scheme of work in English classes
  • use posters and targets to promote oracy throughout the school

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 debbie@noisyclassroom.com

If you would like to find out more about all the fantastic work at Swakeleys, please email Lawrence lhepner@swakeleys.org.uk

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