After a jam-packed November, we have managed to complete 38 of the 48 qualifying rounds. The success of our 50% expansion has enabled 192 schools to be involved in the competition this year, many of them new to Debating Matters. One of the biggest challenges was finding 240 judges prepared to put students through their paces, but the hard work of Abi Ross Jackson and Dave Bowden, two new members of the Debating Matters team and both alumni, paid off and all remaining judging slots are now full. This success has been equalled by the calibre of judges and their enthusiasm in taking part. Speaking after a local qualifying round, Catherine Ewart, Corporate Strategy Programme Manager at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) said ‘I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and found it stimulating to the extent that I’ve been thinking and talking about the subjects that were debated ever since.’ Quentin Rayner, chief news reporter at BBC East Midlands, said ‘It was a very worthwhile experience and I applaud your efforts to encourage debate and tear people away from their screens.’
Schools have been equally excited: teacher Hilary Iles from Wetherby High School in North Yorkshire said ‘winning was the icing on the cake of a new and highly stimulating experience.’ Teacher Susan Lansdown said: ‘For the students at Gloucestershire College it was a rare opportunity! None of our students had previously entered a competition of this type and I thought it was important to let you know how much they enjoyed it.’
The smooth running has been helped along by Debating Matters alumni, who have impressed us with their confidence, both on judging panels and in keeping a handle on opinionated teenagers. We are very grateful for their commitment in the last few months. One alumnus who judged two qualifying rounds this year, Charles Madzima, said that his only disappointment in taking part ‘was that one team had to lose out… I thoroughly enjoyed this round – many thanks to debating matters for making all this possible.’
We now have 6 of the 8 Regional Final dates and venues confirmed and, with an expanded competition, an extra two schools at each round.
We were also very pleased to work with the Aim Higher Peninsula Programme this autumn in developing a variant of Debating Matters for year 11 students who have never debated before. The Peninusla Programme Officers visited schools in October and November to help prepare and coach students. On 17 November, eight school teams came together at the University of Plymouth to battle it out over debates about animal experiments, nuclear power and recycling. We look forward to holding similar events in the future.
On the international stage, in early November Helen Birtwistle travelled out to India to help colleagues at the British Council run the first ever qualifying rounds for Debating Matters India.
Arun A, a student from Toc H Public School, makes a point from the floor
At centres in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai students debated the topical questions of whether ‘Man not machine should explore space’ and if ‘India’s rapidly expanding tourism industry is posing an unacceptable threat to the country’s heritage and environment’. Helen was impressed by the atmosphere of the events: ‘The preparedness of students to engage with challenging and contentious issues, and to take part from the floor by asking tough questions and pushing their peers to come up with convincing arguments made the debates at times genuinely thrilling, though this did lead to several of the debates overrunning because so many of the students wanted to get their points in!’ Reports back from British Council centres in Delhi and Mumbai have been very positive and one of the judges, Rashmi Bansal, Editor of JAM magazine in Mumbai, wrote a blog about his experience, which can be read here.
It was noticeable, in both Kolkata and Chennai, that the aims and philosophy of Debating Matters had a strong resonance with both the students and judges who participated. One of the judges, Karthik Subramanian, commented: ‘It is very rewarding to see young people get so passionate about important issues. It seems to me that Debating Matters is encouraging students in the art of how to think; it is also an excellent opportunity in developing leadership skills.’ Student Ganesh Venkatramano from the Velammal International School in Panchetti near Chennai said of the format ‘Debating Matters gives more life to debate. My general knowledge has also gone up fourfold in preparing for these debates!’ Manvi Vaiayanath from the Chettinad Vidyashram School in Chennai agreed ‘We’ve had lots of fun. Researching for the topics really opened our eyes – there’s so much we didn’t know!’
The Debating Matters team would like to send warmest congratulations to our British Council partners in India, who organised four fantastic rounds. We would like to express our strong appreciation to Pfizer, who are supporting both the UK and India competitions, to our primary funder the Wellcome Trust, and to our UK Regional Sponsors the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and Canterbury Christ Church University. A big thank you to all the judges, alumni and teachers who helped make this years’ qualifying rounds such a success.