Pupils at £20,000 a year Putney High School are taking part in the 90 minute sessions where they learn to chat about random subjects, make people laugh and “speak off the cuff like boys”.
The school, which has a track record of academic success, has also run stand-up comedy sessions and is building a debating forum where students will be able to hone their sharp-witted speaking skills.
Headteacher Suzie Longstaff said: “If you look at the skills that politicians have in parliament, most of them have learnt their debating skills at school. Why shouldn’t we be training our students in these great skills of oracy and debate? Why should it just be the traditional boys’ schools? I want the next female Prime Minister to come from Putney High School.”
Mrs Longstaff said the improvisation lessons, for pupils in years 11 and 13, aim to help them adapt quickly to changing circumstances, which is particularly useful during the pandemic.
The classes, run by staff from improv theatre Hoopla!, include a game where students tell their life story to a partner, who then tells it back to them, and an activity where groups of four pupils are assigned random topics to talk about and have to change partners every time they make someone laugh.
Eventually they return to their original partner and reprise their first conversation.
Mrs Longstaff said: “This year, in a world where social interaction has been so limited, the benefits to our students are huge. It is of particular benefit to girls.
“We are corralling their neural pathways so they can think quickly, they can be agile, and they can respond quickly when under pressure.
“It is of real benefit to girls now but also they are vital skills for their future lives - when they are in a meeting, when they are having an interview, when chatting with others or debating. How often do you finish a conversation and think ‘I wish I said that’?’”
She added: “I think girls particularly do like to prepare and feel confident they have a stable platform. These lessons encourage them by saying they don’t need to have that. They are brilliant, they have got their skills and can interact in an unscripted world, think on their feet and do that really well.”
She added: “My experience of seeing girls performing in debating competitions is that they like to be more prepared, whereas the boys tend to speak off the cuff more. There are advantages and disadvantages of both approaches but we want to give girls the skills and confidence so they can do that well.”