English students exercise persuasion skills in homework debate

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

This week, my Block 4 English set were given the chance to debate a subject close to the heart of every member of the school community: homework.

Having learnt about persuasive devices and studied speeches from speakers as diverse as Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg this half term, students have made their own speeches to their class on a wide and eye-opening range of topics. Kipp Bryan had researched fast fashion and advised us all to buy more from vintage clothes shops; Theo argued for a ‘back to basics’ approach to paying footballers; Stella Miller gave an illuminating account of what it has been like to be without a smart phone for the last month and how liberating it has been; and Masha Kulakova argued for more languages to be taught to primary school children. Having practised their skills as solo performers, the class moved on to a more tricky way to persuade an audience: team debates.

The motion being proposed was “This house believes that homework should be abolished”, a topic on which there has been lively discussion in pedagogical circles. No one had any choice about which side of the debate they argued for but, instead, had to collaborate to come up with arguments, choose speakers and anticipate counter-arguments. Ironically, some of their preparation was a homework task!

Debate day dawned and the teams lined up opposite each other, ready for a stiff fight. We had some well-structured and very persuasive arguments from both teams and, though tempted, they resisted the urge to descend into a baying pack of hounds like that seen all too often in parliament. We started with examples from Finland’s education system, touched upon how teachers might feel about marking homework, how parents might feel about helping with homework and came to the vexed question of just how much homework there is and how many hours have to be devoted to it. Excellent speeches were seen from Daisy Taylor and Stella, with quick thinking in answering questions from the floor from Raph Ross and Inigo Portman. A ‘blind vote’ was taken at the end, designed to measure the strength and persuasiveness of arguments made rather than team loyalty. It was clear that there is a strong appetite for homework to be abolished.

This is not planned as a change in the near future but who knows…