Cambridge Independent Column: The Importance of Teaching Children to Express Themselves

By the time we reach 18 we are likely to have spent about 10,000 hours at school.  Our school years are formative years.  And it should not just be qualifications that we leave with.  Schools have an enormous opportunity to teach character and values to the students within them. It has the time and chance to instil pupils' confidence and self belief.

Education is not simply about multiplication and metaphors; it is about who we are as individuals, how we interact with the world around us and what contribution we make to our own society.

The role of values within our education is at the heart of what many schools understand is their core purpose. Take school mottos, for example. The Perse school motto states: “Qui facit per alium facit per se” – he who does things for others does them for himself; whilst that of Hills Road is "virtute et fide", by virtue and faith. These mottos teach us respect, perseverance and community.

Often the challenging question is not whether character teaching is important but how do we teach it.

The most important point is that we must practise what we preach.  Our teachers have an important job as role models.  As James Baldwin wrote: ‘Children have never been very good at listening to their elders but have never failed to imitate them’.  If teachers believe in what they are doing, then the students will too.

We must also recognise that this education does not stop at the school gates: parents must engage with teachers to ensure that we promote a holistic approach to character building, reinforcing the values that we seek to promote during the school day, and vice-versa.

Confidence, as well as community values is an important part of character. Children who leave school able to express themselves will not only be more likely to be successful in securing employment, they will have the tools to stand up for themselves and what they believe in. They will have the ability not only to form their views but to share them.

Over the past 4 years I have organised an inter-school debating competition South East Cambridgeshire. The competition consists of an in-house round at every secondary school in the constituency followed by a final at the House of Commons.  Working together with the participating schools, I hope that this competition will, in some way, help in the students' journey to be confident, articulate young adults with the guts to address a room of strangers and share their thoughts on key issues of the day.  

The importance of instilling these qualities into those who are venturing out into their adult life cannot be underestimated. Teaching values, confidence, perseverance and resilience ensures not only that children are rounded individuals but also that they have the skills, confidence and ability to play their role in our society. Teaching children not only about issues but how to discuss them openly is the starting point for future interaction. As Jesse Jackson said 'deliberation and debate is the way you stir the soul of democracy'.

(Lucy Frazer's Parliamentary Inter-School Debating Competition 2017 begins in October with Year 11 students across the constituency taking part. 14 pupils (2 from each school) will take part in the final which will take place in December at the House of Commons.)