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Home > News and views > Admiration, respect and good spirit: The key themes of an ESU competition

Admiration, respect and good spirit: The key themes of an ESU competition

ESU competitions offer young people much more than new oracy skills

Have you ever rehearsed a play without performing it? Or perhaps researched and written a 1,000- word essay that no one else was going to see? Probably not, why would you? Most of us would see this journey culminating in an opportunity to show the world what we’ve learned, and what skills we’ve developed.

The practice of oracy in schools is no different, and this is where competitions play a crucial role. The ESU’s three national competitions – Performing Shakespeare, the Schools’ Mace debating contest, and ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition – give students from across the country fantastic opportunities to showcase their oracy skills for all to see. Whether they’ve learnt all the lines to Helena’s ‘O spite, O hell’ speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to perfection, stayed up until 11 pm researching the benefits of refugee quotas, or found the most compelling way of talking about a topic with only a Winston Churchill quotation as their stimulus, students participating in ESU competitions gain a tremendous amount just by competing.

On the surface, it seems fairly standard – young people either perform, speak or debate, get feedback, find out who wins and go home. But it’s not just about having those few minutes in the spotlight and then waiting anxiously for the results. What strikes me about the competitions is the students’ attitudes whilst competing. Instead of a cut-throat, hard-hearted, I’m-going-to-beat-you approach, students actively express admiration, respect and good spirit towards their fellow competitors. Students come away not only with a sense of accomplishment from performing or speaking in public, but have made friends and learned from other students they’ve met.

More often than not, after a challenging, intense and sometimes heated debate during any stage of the Schools’ Mace, I watch the teams rush towards each other to shake hands, mutually exclaiming, ‘Wow, you were so good!’ And they mean it. We could all learn something from these students’ ability to unpick their opponent’s arguments with nuance and clarity in front of a critical audience, and straight afterwards, support and praise them. There is something quite special about the level of maturity demonstrated by people so young, and it can be seen at each stage of all the ESU’s national competitions.

In this way, the competitions give students more than just a platform on which to demonstrate their oracy skills. They offer a worthwhile, motivating experience for young people who share a common interest and talent, a chance for them to be publicly recognised for their skills, and an opportunity to make friends and learn from other students, something that brings a sense of camaraderie that lingers long after the competitions have ended.

Bring students together competitively awakens their drive and motivation. It develops their confidence, creativity, critical thinking and communication skills – all of which are essential for getting the most out of oracy.

Find out more about the ESU’s competitions and how your school can get involved here. And if you’ve not tried debating and are unsure whether it would work in your school, why not try one of our Discover Your Voice workshops?

By Gavin Illsley, Head of Programmes, ESU

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