A News story by Ellena Schuster-Farrell 30 November 2017

In October, Year 10 and Year 11 students from The Crest E-ACT Academy and City Heights E-ACT Academy came together for a day of intense debate at the House of Commons.

The event was a culmination of months of hard work by staff and students alike, and was held as part of a programme of regional pupil celebration events organised by each of E-ACT’s five regional teams.

Regional Education Director David Hatchett organised the debate as a way to counter the national problem of a lack of engagement in politics amongst young people.

“Students don’t have enough political exposure – and it’s so important for them to learn how to debate and to be able to confidently discuss the topics that affect young people.”David Hatchett, REgional education director

Organisers were also conscious that the celebration event should offer students the opportunity to take part in something that they may not otherwise experience ordinarily. The event aimed to challenge students and take them out of their comfort zones, while also helping them to develop confidence in debating.

Building on an existing partnership, a mentoring programme was arranged with sixth formers from Dulwich College’s debating society. The sixth formers worked closely with E-ACT students to help develop the skills they would need to debate the chosen topics of Brexit and grammar schools.

Back at their academies, students were supported by their academy lead in further developing their arguments and preparing for the debate.

“You can see the impact of the mentoring on the students. They are now able to challenge arguments on the spot and quickly defend their own.”David Hatchett

Aside from teaching debating skills, these sessions were also valuable in a broader sense, giving E-ACT students the opportunity to work closely with peers from a different background and get a sense of what other young people around the same age were aiming for after A Levels.

On the day of the debates, students toured both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, learning about the history of British Parliament and democracy in general. One of the grandest committee rooms was selected as the backdrop to the debates, arranged with opposing parties on either side in the same way MPs debate in the House of Commons.

And as if all of these special touches weren’t enough, students were even joined by Labour MP Chuka Umunna for a speech on student engagement in politics and an award presentation.

Everyone present was blown away by the standard of the debates, with parents and teachers incredibly impressed by the students and thrilled to be sitting in the House of Commons.

“It was wonderful to see students reacting so quickly. Being able to respond on your feet with a sound argument is a real skill, and it’s something that these students can now do confidently.” David Hatchett

Although City Heights took the debating crown on the day, it was clear that every student threw themselves into preparing for the event, gaining invaluable skills in the process.  David is keen for this exercise to be replicated in other regions, with students given the opportunity to debate in local buildings of note such as town halls or local authority buildings.

“It would be great to see a similar experience available to all E-ACT students as it is such a fantastic initiative for character education.” David Hatchett