Debating Matters 20 for 20

Debating Matters is 20 years old – we celebrated with 20 events in 2023!

December 2022 marked the twentieth anniversary of Debating Matters. Since our inception, we’ve hosted sixth-form debating competitions across the UK, in Europe and beyond! We’ve worked in a range of different settings, including Debating Matters Beyond Bars in prisons. Our acclaimed Topic Guides continue to be widely used as a teaching resource around the world.

We held 20 events and initiatives over the next year to mark the occasion. Read on to hear about what we were busy with in our special, celebratory year.

1. Letters on Liberty: Why Debating Matters

As part of the Academy of Ideas radical pamphlet series, Letters on Liberty, Mo Lovatt argues that debating matters because ideas matter. We need to reject the idea that any moral and political question has become a settled fact, she says, and that successive generations can forgo the process of democratic persuasion, discussion and the chance to consider and freely debate ideas for themselves.

Using formats like Debating Matters, Mo argues that we must also defend the idea that children should cultivate the cognitive muscles required for dealing with the complex challenges of the adult world. The freedom to debate is the freedom to develop your own moral conscience, she writes. Rather than shying away from controversial or difficult topics, we should embrace them and encourage young people to do the same.

You can buy Why Debating Matters or download a free PDF here.

2. DM Christmas Lecture: Against Conformity

Ali Miraj delivered the DM Christmas Lecture 2022 at St George’s German Lutheran Church in Aldgate, London on Monday 12 December.

3. Ideas Matter podcast: Debating Matters Beyond Bars, with Jon Floyd and Heather Phillips

Initiated in 2015, Debating Matters Beyond Bars is a project which takes DM’s schools-debating format inside prisons. Using our acclaimed substance-over-style format, teams of prisoners engage in debate with one another on a whole range of contemporary social, political and cultural topics. The programme aims to inspire them to think about issues beyond their current situation and to look forward to their life ahead – in other words, beyond bars!

In this podcast, Mo Lovatt – DM’s national coordinator – and Geoff Kidder sat down with former Beyond Bars competitor Jon Floyd to discuss the impact the programme had on him when he took part in 2015 while he was serving his sentence. We were also joined by Heather Phillips, the chief executive of Beating Time, which runs, amongst other things, Inside Job – an employment programme she set up with Jon in 2020. 

For Jon, taking part in Beyond Bars was the catalyst for starting that programme with Heather as well as a whole range of initiatives he’s been involved with since 2015. As he says in the podcast, Beyond Bars gave him a purposeful activity, helped him change direction and kickstarted his journey of rehabilitation.

4. New Topic Guide: Cancel Culture is a threat to freedom of speech

February 2023

Topic Guides are the bedrock of the Debating Matters competition. As part of our 20th Anniversary year, we are releasing a new series of topic guides on a range of important political, social and scientific questions. The first of the year asks pupils to understand the context of the debate surrounding ‘cancel culture’, and decide whether it poses a threat to free speech. Read the guide here.

5. The Womble Bond Dickinson / Leeds Salon Years 10&11 Debating Competition 2023

Debating Matters is not the only project celebrating a big anniversary this year. Leeds Salon has been organising a schools debating competition in Yorkshire for 10 years, aimed at pupils in Years 10 and 11 (14- to 16-year-olds) and using the Debating Matters format.

This year, the competition kicked off with qualifying rounds from Wednesday 18 January and continued into February. The final was held on Weds 29 March with Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School winning the championship, 10 years after winning the first competition in 2014. This year’s competition was sponsored by transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson. Please visit the Leeds Salon website for more details.

6. Debating Matters at the House of Lords

Image © House of Lords 2023 / photography by Roger Harris.

Sixth-form students from four DM schools came together to battle it out for the title of Debating Matters House of Lords Champions 2023. This flagship day of debate was hosted at the House of Lords on Friday 10 March and saw judges drawn from across the House of Lords benches as well as from a range of professions.

Debating in the House of Lords was an incredibly rewarding experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to voice my opinion in front of the judges, whose feedback was useful and insightful. I’m positive that the knowledge I gained throughout the day will continue to benefit me long into the future.
Thomas Florence, winner of the Best Individual prize, Burgate School.

You can read more about the event here.

7. The 286 Podcast: Why Debating Matters

DM’s National Coordinator, Mo Lovatt, was interviewed in April by Chris Akers on The 286 Podcast. This new and exciting podcast covers a range of talking points about art, politics, culture, sport and more. In the interview Mo explains the Debating Matters format, how it aims to inspire young people to find their best arguments, why debating is hugely important and the challenges to open debate today.

8. New Topic Guide: The UK Government Should Legalise Commercial Surrogacy

May 2023

This topic guide tackles a controversial issue in reproductive technology and society. Is commercial surrogacy a step forward for those interested in freeing up female reproductive autonomy, or a dangerous step towards the commercialisation of human reproduction? Read the topic guide here.

9. Debating Matters Durham Championship 2023

On Thursday 8 June Durham Union Society will play host to the Debating Matters Durham Championship 2023. Students from North East schools will come together for a day of intense but thrilling debate as they take on issues such as, “Billionaires owning media companies is bad for democracy” and “Cancel Culture is a threat to freedom of speech”.

It is my immense privilege to host a Debating Matters competition in Durham for a day of thrilling debate! Debating is part of a tradition of free speech that our Society has proudly followed for over 180 years. I’m deeply honoured to share in this tradition with sixth-form students from the North East who I hope will gain not only valuable skills that benefit them for life, but wonderful memories too.

Adam Albazy, President of the Durham Union Society

10. Debating Matters at 104 London Debaters

Tuesday 13 June, 6.45pm-9.00pm

This is a special debate event where 104 London Debaters welcomes guest debaters Mo Lovatt, Tom Collyer and Ethan Green from DM.

The topic is Billionaires’ owning media companies is bad for democracy. 104 London Debaters will be arguing for the proposition, that it is a bad thing, and DM’s team will be opposing this motion.

There will be an extended Q&A session before the summary speakers and a vote will be taken before and after the debate.

After the debate, there will be time for a chat and a drink or two.

The event will take place at The Windsor Castle pub in Westminster. To find out more and to reserve your place, visit Eventbrite.

11. Debating Matters Berlin Championship 2023

On Thursday 15 June, sixth-form students from twelve Berlin schools battled it out to become Debating Matters Berlin Champions 2023. Hosted at the University of Europe for Applied Science, Berlin, and thanks to a long-standing partnership with Freiblickinstitut, this was a fast-paced, exciting competition with barely a moment to catch our breath as debaters argued passionately about billionaires owning media companies, the risks inherent in contact sports, whether healthcare workers should be allowed to strike, or if commercial surrogacy should be legalised, all of which led up to a grand final in which finalists Nelson-Mandela-Schule took on strong opposition from Gymnasium-Steglitz on the topic of Cancel Culture is a threat to freedom of speech to emerge victorious. A full outline of the championship can be found here. We are grateful to our partners and prize sponsors.

12. New topic guides with a Germany focus

To support the brilliant students of the DM Berlin Championship, the team conducted a short piece of research to ensure that our famous topic guides reflected the nuances of the debate in Germany. The two topics which needed a small overhaul were “The German government should legalise commercial surrogacy” and “Healthcare workers should not be allowed to strike

13. Debating Matters London Championship 2023

Free Speech was the theme of the Debating Matters London Champions 2023 as six schools from across London and the Home Counties came together at the iconic Grade I listed building of 55 Broadway. Co-hosted with Blue Orchid Hospitality the championship took place on Thursday 6 July this year. Students debated a range of topics focused on 21st Century issues surrounding free speech and open debate. Aylesbury Grammar School, Harris Academy Chobham, Cardinal Newman Catholic School, The Grey Coat Hospital, Oundle School and Richmond upon Thames College took part in a series of high-quality debates throughout the day. Judges from a range of sectors including Law & Politics, Art & the Media, Health, Sport and Education asked a series of pertinent questions of the students and pushed them to find their best argument. First time DMers Aylesbury Grammar School fought off fierce competition from the other five schools to become DM London Championship winners 2023, with student Toby Webster taking home the prize for Best Individual debater. A full outline of the championship can be found here. We are grateful to our partners and prize sponsors.

14. New Topic Guide: Healthcare workers should not be allowed to strike

September 2023

This topic guide tackles the debate surrounding the right to strike and the affect this has on critical services. Read the topic guide here.

15. Debating Matters Beyond Bars: Training

August 2023

We ran a project at HMP Bronzefield, the biggest women’s prison in the UK, which demonstrated that the rigorous, well-researched and impassioned debate known to all those who take part in the competition is at home as much in prisons as it is in schools.  

Using a selection of the Debating Matters Topic Guides, the prisoners conducted extensive research and training into the debates selected for the competition. Being asked to consider important debates happening in the worlds of politics, science, art and culture, they gained a valuable sense of perspective, and learned important skills in engaging in civil debate.  

16. Debating Matters Beyond Bars: Competition

September 2023

After their training, the participants engaged in two days of tough debate, featuring Debating Matters judges. The group stage debates featured discussions on ‘We should accept the risk inherent in contact sports’, where teams clashed over whether the risk and danger of such sports is important to building character, ‘Social egg freezing empowers women’ where the participants at the female prison took on this contentious issue, and ‘Unhealthy lifestyles are not the business of government’,  where teams clashed over who should decide on the content of our diets. 

 When Debating Matters first entered the prison, we encountered a range of people with very different backgrounds as well as educational levels. But through the process of Debating Matters training, the participants equipped themselves with the intellectual and political resources to engage in productive debate with one another. For many, the improvement was tremendous, with many taking an active role in preparing themselves and their teams for the rigours of competition. Assisted by the dedicated and inspiring educational team inside the prison, they honed their arguments and research.  Read more.

17. Debating Matters Students Visit the House of Lords

September 2023

Durham Sixth Form Centre – the winners of Debating Matters Durham Championship 2023 – visited the House of Lords on the 19th September. They were shown around the august institution by Lord Stewart Jackson of Peterborough, a British politician and adviser who served as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Peterborough from 2005 to 2017.

18. Debating Matters with Royal Armouries and Leeds Salon

November 2023

Thursday 16 November, the first Royal Armouries Sixth-Form Debating Competition will take place, in partnership with The Leeds Salon, with a view to it becoming a regular annual event.

Abbey Grange Academy, Notre Dame Sixth-Form College and Grammar School at Leeds will compete against each other in a round-robin format debating corporate arts sponsorship, whether there’s too many people going to university and whether museums should repatriate cultural artefacts to see who will be the first Royal Armouries Museum Leeds champion.

The competition will use the format and topic guides of Debating Matters, and has been included as a DM20for20 event – one of 20 events to celebrate Debating Matters 20th anniversary.

Please visit The Leeds Salon website for more details..

October 2023

Debating Matters was thrilled to be featured at the Battle of Ideas festival – the UK’s premier festival of debate and discussion. This special showcase debate saw two schools face off on the topic “Social egg freezing empowers women” on Saturday 28 October.

The debate saw New City College defend the motion with speakers Noor Ebrahim and Chidinma Kalu, well drilled by their teacher Toby Marshall. Their opponents were Richmond upon Thames College where Kasim Agpak had prepared pupils Monica Pirvu and Lauren Faulds.

The impressive list of judges were Linda Murdoch, Dr Günes Taylor and Professor Sir Simon Wessely.

New City College were the victors in a highly impressive debate. We hope that Debating Matters will be invited back next year!

December 2023

The final major event of our 20th Anniversary year was a fitting celebration. The winners of the Debating Matters London Championship – Aylesbury Grammar School – took up their winning prize: a tour of the House of Lords.

Baroness Fox of Buckley invited the team for a visit and they had a tour from an experienced guide. It was a great opportunity to celebrate the team’s Debating Matters success, and learn about the history of British democracy.