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Smith Schools' Series: Developing Critical Thinking & Debating Skills

Kick-start a focus on pupils’ critical thinking skills with a funded visit for your P6/7s to Panmure House in Edinburgh

Did you know that 18th century Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith lived in Panmure House in Edinburgh’s Canongate from 1778 to 1790? Did you also know that you can send your P6 and P7 pupils to visit this historic place where we aim to inspire and teach them how to debate and think critically through the Smith Schools’ Series?

The past two years have been unprecedentedly challenging for teachers and pupils across Scotland. In the spirit of Adam Smith who loved to debate and challenge the ideas of his day and his peers, we’ve created an interactive and engaging inquiry-based learning journey called the Smith Schools’ Series (https://www.panmurehouse.org/programmes/smith-schools-series/) for P6 and P7 pupils. To energise the learning experience, we will fund a trip (transport costs included) for state schools to visit Panmure House and supply all teaching materials for free.


At Panmure House, our goal is to develop and enable the next generation of critical thinkers and debaters through fun and uplifting debate games, discussion techniques and public speaking training. We make debating and critical thinking skills accessible and enjoyable for teachers to teach and pupils to use across all subject matter. Debating and critical thinking are universal and transferable lifelong skills which also serve to reduce the attainment gap. Accordingly, we aim to introduce this to pupils as early as possible in their school careers. We seek to inspire pupils to continue to study, to question the world around them and to find ways to bring about a more just society, just as Smith did 250 years ago.    


The Series takes pupils and their teachers on an Inquiry Learning Path where together they move from wonder and curiosity to debating the big issues facing us all such as climate change and sustainable trade. Each lesson is a gateway to the next, and as pupils progress, their learning deepens and they acquire the skills to be confident debaters and public speakers - just like the world-changing figures from the Scottish Enlightenment. The flow of lessons is suitable to follow any direction of learning chosen by the pupils and teachers. Although we recommend following the Inquiry Learning Path, we also provide stand-alone lessons that teachers can pick up and use immediately. For example, we developed a fun and creative stand-alone lesson about Robert Burns which is perfect to use for Burns Night. We encourage flexibility and engaging with content in a way that makes sense for a particular classroom and teacher. Of critical importance to us is that pupils join Smith on a journey of discovery and development. 


The content is hosted on our bespoke website (schools.panmurehouse.org) and presents the information and debate techniques in engaging and imaginative ways. It is user-friendly and we do not use email logins for pupils – instead provide a randomised log in code. There are two sites: one for teachers and the other for pupils but teachers can access both.

The content for the pupils is written in the first person where Smith talks to them directly and shows them how together we can challenge ideas to create a fairer society and brighter future for all. The Series starts off with a memorable mentor quiz where pupils will find out who their Enlightenment Mentor is to learn more about them and their ideas. The content comes to life through an interactive animated map, portrait gallery of key figures, library of important works, scrollable timeline and online escape room.  It’s up to pupils how they want to explore the content – the map, timeline and gallery await them. There are many multiple choice quizzes hidden throughout the website where pupils can collect virtual silver coins which is a thoroughly enjoyable aspect of the Series. An animated Smith walks alongside pupils throughout the learning journey and suggests debate topics and techniques. To give you a taster of the style of animation and website, please watch this 1 min video.( https://www.panmurehouse.org/programmes/smith-schools-series/)  

The core units are (1) Trade, (2) Adam Smith and his ideas, and (3) the Scottish Enlightenment, with each unit consisting of a series of connected and stand-alone lessons, lesson plans and class handouts. Some call Smith the father of modern economics, but in this Series we go beyond this and explore his many ideas about equality, language, philosophy, morality, government, trade and justice. The Series is designed to inspire and educate school pupils about the life, work and times of Smith and the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment across the world.  


Teachers can choose topics and lessons from over 20 lesson plans including topics such as COP26, sustainability, trade, innovation, poetry and scientific methods. We provide instructions for teachers and pupils about how to use over 16 discussion and debate techniques to tackle the big issues of the day. Teachers can set their own pace but we are also on hand to help guide them. We provide everything via the teacher’s area on the website including lesson plans, handouts, class presentations,  classroom working wall materials – alphabet, map, Panmure Pound bank notes, additional content and explainers, and set up their pupils. All lessons are aligned to multiple parts of the Curriculum for Excellence (Literacy, Numeracy, Expressive Arts, HWB, Technology and Social Studies) and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Panmure House, located in Edinburgh, is the final and only remaining home of Adam Smith, philosopher and 'father of modern economics.' Originally built in 1691, Smith occupied the House between 1778 and 1790, during which time he completed the final editions of his master works: The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Giants of the Scottish Enlightenment were once welcomed into its two main rooms by Smith, from which they went on to influence the shape of modern society. In 2008, Edinburgh Business School and Heriot-Watt University undertook to rescue this historic building from dereliction. Following a 10-year, £5.6m renovation, Panmure was formally opened in November 2018. We have meticulously restored and conserved the elegant 18th-century interiors as inspirational spaces for forward-thinking debate to continue today. Steeped in the rich culture of Scotland and its worldwide influence, the house is a rare historic jewel, which we look forward to sharing with the next generation of great thinkers and debaters.


A trip to Panmure House and a day of learning about local history, current issues and how to think critically is the perfect way to kick-start the learning journey and re-energise your pupils. The trip (including transport costs) and access to materials is free exclusively for Scottish state schools. We would love to hear from you and your P6 and 7 teachers to arrange a visit to Adam Smith’s Panmure House and hope you will join our journey of new Enlightenment thinking and debating. Contact us at panmurehouse@hw.ac.uk for more information or learn more at panmurehouse.org.