Debating a different perspective on learning

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Family at dining room table

Teatime is a noisy, chaotic affair in our house. Three children fighting to be heard means that on occasion, even I have been known to put my hand up to get a word in edgeways. (And yes the photo is a stock image – no one ever looks that polished at the end of the day in my house!)

Yesterday my 12 year old son was debriefing about his day. It was a long and meandering story of epic bus journeys, detailed off plot accounts about his friends and a very small percentage of actual school.

Then he said “I had a great lesson today with a really good teacher. The teacher let us talk and it was like they really wanted to know what we had to say.”

More detailed questioning revealed that a packed school timetable often left little room for debate or discussion in class, but the most memorable lessons were where it was present.

It struck a chord loudly for me, and not just because I work for an organisation focused on developing young people’s voice.

The most inspirational teachers I remember were the ones who encouraged debate and discussion as a way of gaining a deeper understanding, not just of the subject but of other people’s perspectives and opinions.


The ability to present your ideas clearly, listen to other people’s viewpoint and to give constructive and considered feedback is an essential part of learning at any stage.

And feeling like you have a say and that your voice is being heard builds confidence and fosters stronger relationships at every age. How often do you hear people complain ‘They didn’t really seem to be listening to me’ or ‘Communication is really poor in this company’?

So how do we build the time and space to hear young peoples’ voice in schools? Is it just down to those inspirational teachers who want to hear what students have to say?

Or is it a whole school approach, looking at everything from young people’s leadership roles to restructuring the curriculum and timetable to allow time for reflection and discussion?

It’s a debate that needs to be had. And had with young people themselves. The news is dominated by the impact social media is having on young people and their lack of ability to communicate beyond a text message or a WhatsApp.

But if the school timetable doesn’t allow the time or the opportunity for discussion where do young people learn these skills, which form the foundations of good communication? How do we make them work ready, where they will be expected to propose and discuss ideas and listen to the views of people which may be the polar opposite of their own?

The tea table will always be an option in my family, but I want my children to debate and discuss a far wider world than just their immediate surroundings, because I want their ambitions, connections and interests to stretch far beyond it.

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