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Inaugural KS5 Event at the RAF Museum Debate Space helps Sixth Form students develop key skills

Sixth Form students had the opportunity to meet with students from other schools while developing important skills at the RAF Museum Debate Space

Sixth Form students and teachers gathered at the Royal Airforce Museum’s Debate Space on Thursday 4th of November to take part in BPSI’s KS5 Programme’s Inaugural Sixth Form Get-Together. Students had the opportunity to meet students from other schools, explore the museum, and further develop important skills for study in the Debate Space.

Sixty-three Sixth Form students from Whitefield School, St. Michael’s Catholic Grammar School, and St. James’ Catholic High School joined together with their teachers in the Debate Space to further develop skills integral to successful Sixth Form study. The event provided students with the opportunity to critically examine & evaluate sources, sift through sources for relevancy, infer meanings, and draw conclusions to inform their arguments. In addition to their work in the Debate Space, students enjoyed walking through the RAF Museum and the opportunity to meet students from different schools, especially after having few opportunities to do so over the past several months.

The purpose-built Debate Space featured a large digital interactive table where students were able to zoom-in on sources, work together to discuss their relevancy, determine which points would best support their side of the argument, and send them to their team speaker with the touch of a button. This set-up allowed students to capitalise on their own strengths while working together, allowing students to confidently step-out of their comfort zone as they collaborated with peers from different schools. Steve Marshall, one of the KS5 Programme advisors, found this to be one of the highlights of the event, saying, “Students, especially today, need to apply the knowledge they acquire. Interaction with the table enabled students to interpret information supplied and make inferences and presentations to other students, no matter what they actually believed beforehand. Watching the application of skills and stepping-up into roles they often do not assume in class was tremendous.”

As students developed these skills, they also benefitted from the opportunity to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing our increasingly digital world. Students were asked to debate if “unmanned aircraft should always be controlled by a human” and if “robots making battlefield decisions will increase the number of lives lost” – situations that could reasonably become a reality within students’ lifetimes. Museum staff and school staff encouraged the students to consider multiple viewpoints as they prepared their arguments for debate, as well as asking them to consider the other applications of this technology in civilian life and the implications it could have. Paul Ward, Deputy Head of Sixth at St. Michaels’, noted students impressive use of the Debate Table while discussing these topics: “I saw students make great use of the Debate Table at the RAF. Students from my school processed complex information about the use of Drones and the ethical considerations which arise from this technology. They made careful decisions about the value and admissibility of evidence and passed it to a spokesman for their debate team.”

Sponsored by BELS, the event was offered at no-cost to these schools as they were members of the Barnet Partnership for School Improvement’s KS5 programme. BPSI’s KS5 Programme grew out of the intention to address the issues that may have been behind a one-off drop in A Level results in 2019, as well as a disparity between academic and vocational outcomes. Initial investigation attributed this to the possibility that students who had been well-trained to succeed in their GCSEs were not able to adjust to the demands of study, especially independent learning, at KS5. The KS5 Programme was instigated to address this, first as an Enquiry, then a Pilot, and now as a full programme. This sort of event is in the spirit of what schools are now doing so their students are challenged to think beyond the immediate subject exam specification.

With nineteen secondary schools currently involved, the KS5 Programme provides a series of network forums for leaders and teachers of different subjects across Barnet, both academic and vocational. The programme also organises super-curricular opportunities, like this event at the RAF Museum, to engage students in applying their growing knowledge and understanding in challenging activities which connect their learning to the real world.

According to Charles Rice, the KS5 Programme Co-Advisor, the Debate Table allowed students to do exactly that: “Immersed as in a Tardis, students were challenged to scrutinise and synthesise a range of information, points of view, and sources of evidence, all winging across to them electronically. Using their reading skills, they formed an argument which they then debated,” said Rice. “They responded to the challenge magnificently and it was powerful also to see non-teaching staff also given leave to model their engagement and presentation of arguments – a truly inclusive experience.”

The event’s success shows promise for future KS5 events, as students enjoyed the opportunity to meet and socialise with Sixth Form students from different schools while developing these skills. Ward found the event to be “a great opportunity to develop advocacy and articulation skills in pupils from Year 10 upwards. The Debate Table will help to generate thoughtful and well-informed arguments from future participating schools.” Rice felt the event was a success as it showcased the aims of the KS5 programme and the growing collaboration between schools in Barnet, saying, “the event was successful because it brought students together from different schools and gave them the change to flex their intellectual muscle. It modelled precisely the sort of work that all our schools are engaged in promoting, and provided students with the sort of wider learning that will help them compete in attaining the next stage in their education. It also showed how BPSI, through this programme, is fostering increasing collaboration and engagement between our schools, as well as a healthy challenge to young people.”

Those interested in learning more about joining the KS5 programme are encouraged to contact Steve Marshall at or Charles Rice at

For those looking to join the Barnet Partnership for School Improvement, they can view the service here.

Learn more about the RAF Museum's Debate Space by visiting their website.


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