The Taunton branch of the English-Speaking Union (ESU), a charity working to give young people speaking and listening skills, has supported students from The Taunton Academy in a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to speak in the House of Lords.

Ten pupils at the school were invited to take part in a debate run by the ESU in conjunction with the Lords, which culminated in a small group speaking in its debating chamber on the topic ‘How can we reach a sustained future?’ A donation from the Taunton branch was used to fund travel costs to London.

Charles Scott, chair of the Taunton ESU, said: “Over the years we have been raising money in order to fund activities and competitions for children, particularly the Public Speaking Competition. To stand up in front of an audience and debate a subject gives them enormous confidence in the future. We were proud to have been able to help these children in this venture, with the support of their brilliant teacher Kathryn Lam.”

After an early train to London to the Houses of Parliament, students had the opportunity to network with members of the ESU and some Lords and Baronesses. Having had brunch on the Lords’ terrace, they then entered the most lavishly decorated room in the Palace of Westminster – the historic Lords’ Chamber.

Speakers from all over the UK, including secondary schools, university students, members of the House of Lords, the Royal Meteorological Society and the Royal Geographical Society were invited to talk. The first debate, led by Lord Speaker Fowler, focused on ‘Are governments responsible for tackling climate change?’ The academy’s Chloe Sanders was selected to respond to the statement ‘It is our individual responsibility to tackle climate change’ and presented a very thoughtful and organised speech. Jay Biddle was an impromptu speaker when the floor was open to comment.

The second debate, led by Deputy Speaker Baroness McIntosh, considered ‘Should we make sacrifices now to benefit people in the future?’ Jomari Magsakay was selected as a prepared speaker arguing that: “We need a balanced approach to tackle climate change; sacrifices need to be made by individuals, but there should be a greater emphasis on government also needing to lead the way by reducing our impact on climate change through legislation”.

The third debate, led by Deputy Speaker Simon Haskel, asked ‘Can sustainability work alongside globalism and growth?’. Oskar Fedor made an interesting impromptu comment to the debate when it was opened to the floor.

Jenny Veal, Head Teacher of the Taunton Academy, said: “I am very grateful to the ESU for helping the students. Participating in an event like this was a once in a lifetime experience for them and who knows what it will inspire in them, and indeed lead them to, in the future.

“This is not the first time we have worked with the ESU as we have also taken part in competitions and workshops, each hugely valuable to the students. It has helped build their confidence, their oracy skills and their connection with, and understanding of, the wider world. I hope we will be able to continue our unique relationship with the ESU for many years to come.”