High School of Dundee teacher awarded medal in New Year's Honours List

A High School of Dundee teacher has been awarded a Medal of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours List.

Irene McGrath

Irene McGrath is to receive the BEM in recognition of her services to Scottish schools debating.  

Irene said she was “shocked, surprised and delighted” by the award of the medal, which she will be presented with at a local ceremony.

She said, “Surreal is the only word to describe it!

“The day the letter arrived I had actually been with pupils at a debating competition in St Andrews all day. I wasn’t expecting anything of importance in the mail, so I didn’t check it until the next morning.

“When I opened the envelope, I just burst into tears. I never thought anything like this would happen to me.” 

Irene has been involved in Scottish schools debating for 43 years, serving as a member of the Scottish Schools International Debating Council – which organises and supports the Scottish team for the annual World Schools Debating Championships - since 2003 and chairing the body from 2007-2017.

She lists her proudest debating achievement as having been Convenor of the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) in 2011, when, with strong support from Dundee City Council and all its schools, Dundee hosted over 400 participants from 48 nations for the ten-day event.

“It took three years of my life to organise,” she said. “Years later I was chatting to a student working on a till in the supermarket. For some reason we got talking about debating and he started telling me excitedly about when WSDC had come to his school! It was tremendously rewarding to hear that it had had such an impact.”

Irene, who for many years taught French and Russian and is now Head of Academic Administration at the High School, was nominated by staff and alumni of the School and Team Scotland.

As well as being the School’s debating coach, she has attended every WSDC since 2003 as an adjudicator and is currently secretary of the International Board of Directors of WSDC.

She said, “My goal has been, and continues to be, to encourage as many young people as possible, from as many different schools from across the country, to stand up and express structured and persuasive cases based upon reasoned argument and properly researched facts.

“I get a huge buzz out of seeing them learn how to do that and I think it’s an extremely valuable skill for our young people to possess and to be able to take out into the world.”