Ampleforth Public Speaking Festival 

Saturday 2nd - Sunday 3rd March 2019
This weekend, seven of our pupils attended Ampleforth’s Public Speaking Festival. Mrs Hardie and myself took them down and we were treated to a very enjoyable and educational weekend. We were met by our host, Mr Chris Starkey, who settled us into our accommodation and introduced us to the pupils of St Hugh’s, Lincolnshire, who would be joining us.

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After sharing a delicious lunch (one of many lovely, generous meals over the two days), we toured around some of the main parts of the college and Abbey Church before heading to the beautiful library to get started on an afternoon of Oracy workshops.

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Mr Starkey explained the meaning of the word oracy and explained that it was, along with numeracy and literacy, a very important skill for life. We explored the matter of a speech – how to ensure that what you are wanting to say is explicit to an audience and that your persuasive arguments change the thinking of your listeners. We practiced these skills with a short, structured debate on the death penalty.

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The second session went on to explore the method of constructing a speech, with pupils using a template to organise their thoughts as they sat in the wooden carrels, looking very grown up! This was the first opportunity for working on their own speeches and they made the most of the opportunity to put some of what they had learned into practice.

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After a short break for tea and biscuits in the main hall, it was back to the library for a final workshop on the manner in which you deliver a speech. We were joined by Father Ambrose, who talked the children through a variety of techniques to consider when delivering a speech, such as pitch, speed, rhythm and… pauses.

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With an hour to write up their final speeches, which was quite a challenge, everyone was glad to find work was done for the day and it was time for supper and relaxation. After tea we were invited to St John’s House by the housemaster Mr Curran and his wife to share pancakes with the boys and to play some pool and x box before bed.

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On Sunday the children were invited to join the school for Mass and Mr Starkey asked them to look out for some of the presentation skills they had learned about during the service. We listened to the readers and Father Alexander as he delivered his homily with new ears as we focused in on the techniques on show.

Finally, it was time to head to the Performing Arts Centre for the final presentation. The pupils had to stand up and speak in front of parents, staff and a class of Mr Starkey’s Y9 pupils along with Deirdre Row, the acting head, who had the unenviable job of judging the talks. They steadied their nerves and all delivered excellent speeches on a topic of their choice.

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The pupils spoke with great passion and it was evident that the coaching they had received on Saturday was put to immediate use. The standard was very high with topics ranging from the Invictus games to racism and women’s sufferage. Ms Rowe, after providing some very useful positive feedback, selected Elena’s talk on animal testing as the best persuasive argument and Alex’s talk on Elon Musk as the best delivery. After a small presentation, Mr Starkey was keen to thank the pupils for their efforts and praise the high standards achieved.
What had me thinking quietly on the bus as we headed home was the impression our pupils had made on the staff during their short stay. I had nothing but praise from all involved, who had been taken not only with the children’s courteous behaviour and enthusiasm for the work needing to be done but for their openness and warmth. It was a pleasure to take them to such a super event which they so obviously enjoyed and my thanks go to Mr Starkey, Father Ambrose and Helen McKell for organising a wonderful weekend.
Mwara Stuart


Jules Birdsall, 04/03/2019