22. Brexit Debate
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
“How far does Ofsted expect a school like Eydon Vale to come in just one term?” asked a parent at May's Parents' Forum. It was the fourth since Eydon Vale went into Special Measures. In answer, Rhiannon described the public speaking exercise that the acting head of English and I had staged among the Year 10s that morning. The two top sets had been brought together for a formal debate on Brexit. Neither had had much practice in oratory skills, but the progress they had made was remarkable.
“Teenagers develop the skills of argument quite naturally,” she said. “Eydon Vale’s pupils are particularly good at anticipating what the other side will say and getting their retaliation in first. You may have noticed this at home.” There was a ripple of indulgent laughter in the hall. “The English teachers had built their preparation around this,” Rhiannon explained.
“We had taught the pupils to create a line of argument around the weaknesses in what they thought the opposition would say," I continued. "How sound was the other side's evidence? What were the flaws in their arguments? How could humour be employed to make them look silly? How could a more sophisticated vocabulary make their own arguments sound stronger? The majority started with the belief that we should have a hard break with Europe and an immediate clampdown on immigration. However, the more research they carried out on the economic costs, the more they understood how complex the issues were, particularly in an area like Holmesside.”
“There were three main speakers on each side, and then the debate was thrown open to the floor,” Rhiannon went on. “Even the pupils in the audience had written a speech in advance. When the pupils voted, 31 supported hard Brexit, and 29 opposed it. It was thrilling to watch them come to grips with the other side’s point of view. They were learning how to use statistics, logic, feeling and rhetorical devices to gain the upper hand - rather than brute force.”
“They were so pleased with themselves that they voted to revive the Eydon Vale Debating Society, with Tom Windsor as President,” I added.
There was tittering in the audience at the mention of Tom’s name, which puzzled me.
“Before you came, Tom Windsor was one of the worst bullies here,” one of the parents explained.
“Well, I'd guess that an Ofsted Inspector listening to him speak in the debate would have been just as excited as I was," Rhiannon said. "Mr Shaw's lesson would have been graded as ‘good’ at the very least.”
“Why not ‘excellent’?” called out another parent.
“Good question!" I replied "Neither Miss Starr nor myself have had the Ofsted training, so we can’t be sure. Compared to the Year 11 top sets, who have had the benefit of all the extra lessons and holiday classes, my Year 10s are still finding it difficult to plan their essays. They keep on looking around the room in order to think of what they want to write. They need to develop the skill of thinking and writing at the same time. However, there was no mistaking the fact that they were more alert, composed and enthusiastic than the Year 11s were six months ago. What Miss Starr means is that Ofsted doesn’t give marks for trying,” I joked.
The atmosphere in the hall was so much more positive. The anger that had characterised December's Forum had dissipated over the last six months. One parent asked why there were never any school plays or musicals anymore. Other parents were also upset about the loss of experienced staff. But Rhiannon and I had reassured most of them that we were not deceiving ourselves. However enthusiastic we might be, we had a realistic view of how we had come and how much more was to be done..