Students from four UK schools gathered in the heart of Westminster on Friday 10 March to compete in the Debating Matters House of Lords Championship 2023. And what an inspiring day of debate it was!
The Burgate School took on competitors from three other schools and faced tough questions from judges and audience members to emerge as winners of the DM House of Lords Championship.
The whole day was incredible. The venue was stunning and the fact that we, just a small school from the country, got to debate inside of the House of Lords, one of the most important places in the UK, was definitely one of the best times of my school career.
Ivan Godfree, student, Burgate School
Judges were drawn from across the House of Lords benches with peers from Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Crossbench peers joining professionals from law, economics, media, education and the charitable sector. Their role was to challenge students by asking tough questions, to push them to articulate their best arguments, and to provide feedback on how to develop and improve their debating skills in the future.
What stood out to me the most was the quality of debate from all participants. The topics were thought-provoking, making for some truly engaging discussions. The judges were extremely knowledgeable and provided insightful feedback that helped us all improve our skills. DM is an excellent opportunity to develop critical thinking skills, engage with important issues and meet new, insightful people!
Kiera Napier, student, Richmond upon Thames College (RUTC)
Debating Matters aims to give young people the opportunity to discuss real-world issues by undertaking thorough research – including using our acclaimed Topic Guides and their own independent research – and by engaging in a robust but civil debate competition . They are encouraged to understand both sides of an argument, as well as the many shades of grey in between; to look at the wider context surrounding the debate and to reach for the philosophical dilemma at the heart of the issue. It’s why DM has been called, ‘the toughest debating competition in the world!’
Ella Mulholland, from Havering, explains how the process is intellectually challenging from the outset:
My debate partner [Noor Ebrahim] and I had our own little debate in preparing for our debate, so I learnt a lot about the side I disagree with, and it actually changed my mind a bit although I still kept my position. It actually helps you grow your own side and you feel good about yourself because you know more things.
Ella Mulholland, student, Havering Sixth Form
As Ella’s comments show, although research and content-led argument is at the heart of DM, there is no substitute for debating an issue to really understand what you think, to open you up to new information and ideas and to consciously reflect on your own arguments.
Barrister Steven Barrett, one of our individual judges at the House of Lords, reflects on the process:
Judging is absolutely terrifying as there are a lot of very talented young people. What’s more, I’m supposed to just pick one for my honourable mention! But you get to see young people shining and showing their potential and you get to engage with interesting ideas and think matters through. That’s what debating is and why it matters. It is the process of thinking, of testing and improving your own thoughts. The skills these young people are developing are core skills to help them go on and succeed in life.
Steven Barrett, individual judge
Teams from Havering Sixth Form and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School (QEGS) battled it out for a place in the final by debating ‘Social egg freezing empowers women‘ while students from Burgate School and Richmond upon Thames College tackled the motion: ‘Skills Gap: too many people are going to university‘.
The final saw the QEGS team argue ‘Tech companies should act to stop online misinformation‘ and they provided a strong defence of their position, drawing on research and making intelligent debate points. However, they were just pipped to the post by the team from Burgate who impressed the judges with their ability to continually think on their feet and to answer a range of tough questions.
The House of Lords was a grand setting for our trip, where the debating, with many superb debaters, was to such a high standard that I am amazed we won. The judges had such a variety of unique experiences that their insights, questions and feedback will greatly enhance future debates that we have. All the people there were thoughtful with interesting questions that opened up avenues of thought that we had not been prepared for. Just being able to have experienced it has been exhilarating and I hope this event keeps going so that more students can be enriched and challenged.
Ned Woodley, student, Burgate School
Well done to all competitors and especially to winners Burgate where student Thomas Florence also took home the ‘best individual’ prize. Honourable mentions went to Ella Mulholland, Octavian Gopcalo of Havering; William Golding, Coco Rose Puren of Burgate; Charlotte Jack from QEGS and Cat Hay from RUTC.
As well as debating, students got to visit the House of Lords Chamber to hear part of the International Women’s Day debate and enjoyed lunch in the Cholmondeley Room overlooking the House of Lords terrace and the Thames.
A special thank you goes to teachers Kasim Agpak, Evan Bailey, Tom Finn-Kelcey and Toby Marshall who encouraged their students to reach to their fullest potential:
The students are still buzzing and everyone here is so proud of them. Thank you so much for this opportunity. This was the best day in my teaching career and in addition to the students gaining from engaging with the main aim of the debating matters format this has been a life-changing experience in terms of confidence for our students over the years and of course at the House of Lords. You just never know how much they will step up and surprise themselves until they are one the stage.
Evan Bailey, teacher, Burgate School
Thanks to judges Steven Barrett, Tom Bewick, Baroness Bull, Baroness Chakrabarti, Tom Collyer, Lord Fox, Ethan Green, Timandra Harkness, Dervla Murphy, Hilary Salt, Jane Sandeman, Lord Sewell, Leo Villa and Martin Wright.
The event was supported by the House of Lords Engagement team and the Federation of Awarding Bodies, with Baroness Fox as the peer-sponsor of the event. Prizes were provided by Hodder Education, Prospect, Academy of Ideas and the House of Lords.
For further information about the event, the Debating Matters competition or to request photos or interviews with students, teachers, judges and other participants, please contact Mo Lovatt at email@example.com
Created in 2002, Debating Matters is a UK-based debating competition. DM offers a fresh, accessible and engaging format for debating contemporary real-world issues, with an emphasis on substance, not just style of debating, and the importance of taking ideas seriously. Follow Debating Matters on Twitter: @DebatingMatters
Debating Matters is a project of the Ideas Matter charity. For more information on the charity, please visit https://ideasmatter.org.uk/
For further information about the competition, visit www.debatingmatters.com
For further information about the House of Lords Engagement Programme, visit https://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/get-involved-with-the-lords/engagement-programme/