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Most may be too young to vote themselves in June, but that isn’t stopping Trent College’s students taking very seriously whether Britain should remain in the EU as the school staged its own mock referendum on Friday (15 April).
Organised by the school’s Debating Team, two panels of three students on each side, chaired by two Sixth Form students, provided counter-arguments as to the pros and cons of Brexit before all students in Year 7 and above were eligible to cast their vote based on what they had heard.
With a turnout of approximately 64%, Trent College voted to remain in the EU by an overwhelming 2:1 majority.
Debating has enjoyed a renaissance at Trent College over the past two years, led by the school’s Head of History and Politics, Helen Johnson. The school has performed impressively at three major university schools’ debating competitions in this school year, including at the world's largest residential schools' debating event at Durham over Easter.
At Warwick in November Joe Sisson and Fin Willits reached the Novice final – for students in their first year of competitive debating - with Joe ranked second best Novice overall, and in February Amy Beresford and Scarlett Dargan reached the Novice final and were both ranked in the top five Novice speakers at Nottingham.
Now the faux Brexit referendum has given the debaters the chance to flex their oratory muscles in front of their schoolmates in a bid to try to convince them which way to vote.
Helen explains: “We felt it was important to do some form of mock EU referendum so the students could get involved even though most can’t vote in the real thing. We have several excellent debaters now and it seemed a good opportunity to allow them to demonstrate their skills and also educate pupils about the referendum.”
Fin Willits, who was one of the students students leading the ‘Out’ campaign, said: “This referendum is a once-in-a-generation event, something which will play a key role in determining the nation these students one day inherit. A student-driven EU referendum was seen as the best way to encourage the students to engage with the arguments, put forward their own ideas and get involved.”
Debating sessions are run once a week at Trent College as part of an academic enrichment programme to nurture confidence and key life skills. Helen says debating encourages students to become more articulate in developing and listening to arguments and read more around wider subjects, all critical in university, especially Oxbridge, interviews and their future careers prospects.
She continued: “Debating competitions are good as they get the students really interested and are a great confidence builder as you win debates on the strength of your ideas not presentation. Judges listen to the quality of what is being said not how students are saying it.
"We want students to come up with new ideas and challenge things, not just accept the way things are done is the only way. The idea is to get them to think in a way that there aren't any right answers and it is applying knowledge that counts. We are creating an academic atmosphere where the students are driving it."