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Samuel Whitbread Academy

High Attainders: Debate, Drama and Critical Thinking


The art of debating is something that requires students to utilise their higher order thinking skills. It requires students to reach a judgement on a topic and be able to explain and justify this using carefully chosen and relevant examples. These are all skills that students are required to use in the higher mark questions on many of their exam papers. In an exam you also have to be able to think on the spot: what relevant examples do you have, how can you apply them to the questions, how can you justify the judgement that you are making?

We offer a number of opportunities for students to practise these skills in ways that are not just centred in a classroom. The Debate Club, which meets every Thursday, has participated in International competitions. This involves pitting our students’ critical thinking skills against other schools from the USA, Africa, Scotland and Dubai. Our most recent debate the team was involved in, had them engaging with a topic that was linked to newsworthy events at the time. SWA was part of the statue debate event last term with the Fair Justice System for Scotland Group and Sir Geoffrey Palmer OBE. This debate is ongoing still, surrounding statues like those of Edward Colston (a philanthropist, but also a director of a slave trading company) in Bristol and whether they should be left to stand or be removed (as Colston’s was forcibly).

To extend the impact of this debate, the opportunities it provided for discussion and debate of current affairs, a drama production was written and performed by what was then the Year 10 drama club to provide access to this debate for KS2, KS3 and KS4 students for History and subjects like Engaging Minds in our school and for other schools across the BEST trust. The drama performance includes both sides of the debate, and recognises a middle ground between the two.

Edward Colston is in court to establish the case for keeping his statue as it is. Samuel Whitbread is the voice of the prosecution suggesting that statues of people who benefited from slavery or the slave trade should be removed. In his time Samuel Whitbread was an important abolitionist, but his family represents the level of impact of slavery in everyone’s lives at the time. The court case reveals the fact that Whitbread’s daughter Harriot married into a slave owning family and benefited from the compensation given to slave owners when slavery was finally abolished in the British Colonies in 1833. A point that Colston is quite happy to use in his defence!

The court case drama was created so that the class viewing the drama are informed about the different points of view, and also the possibility of a compromise where statues, like those of Colston, have a plaque placed on them to educate people about their involvement in slavery and the slave trade, as well as the philanthropy, or other deeds they were built a statue to celebrate. Once the class decides which judgement they think is correct, 3 possible endings have been recorded with the judge summing up for each possible conclusion. The class can then be played the relevant ending! This will then stretch and challenge students to reach their own judgement, to justify and maybe even be inspired their own drama with an ending and evidence specific to their decisions. There are other controversial statues that could be considered. What do you think should happen, was the recent court decision to acquit those who threw Colston’s statue in the harbour the right one?

Dr Haynes