Maidstone Grammar and Barnard Castle schools Zoom into the Debating Matters history Books

Debating Matters concluded its first-ever online championships this autumn, with 12 schools battling it out over two competitions to grab the first-ever Debating Matters virtual crowns.

After a long and challenging year, it’s been a thrilling return to Debating Matters. Leaving behind the challenges of bubbles and isolation, 12 schools from around the country logged on to take part in two new-look Debating Matters Championships. The debates that usually characterise our championships – with audiences and peers from different schools all mixing – have not been able to take place in person this year, but we’re delighted to have made our own contribution to ensuring that intellectual life hasn’t been locked down!

Debating topics from digital privacy to colonial reparations, government intervention in healthy lifestyles to controversial monuments, the participating pupils demonstrated that there is a real appetite for considered, well-researched debate that is big on ideas and full of substance. Debating Matters Online has been a tonic in a time of media soundbites and an acrimonious culture war. Maidstone Grammar School, the winners of the November tournament, and Barnard Castle School, winners of the December tournament, demonstrated admirable intellectual courage and will justly be recorded as the first schools to win one of the new Online Championships.

To get there, they had to see off some seriously challenging opposition. Maidstone Grammar narrowly beat Sherborne School for Girls in the final debate, after both schools topped their groups which included Cardiff Sixth Form College, Cirencester College, Exeter College and Richmond upon Thames College. There were a number of exceptional individuals who consistently asked thoughtful and difficult questions, with Ellie Breeze of Maidstone Grammar School taking the coveted Best Individual award and Bill Chen of Cardiff Sixth Form College and Alice McCormick of Sherborne Girls winning the Highly Commended and Commended prizes respectively.

Barnard Castle also had some tough competition in the December Championship. In the final debate of the Championship they beat a spirited team from Queen Mary’s College by successfully arguing in favour of reparations to former colonies. Both teams came top of their groups, which included excellent teams from Burgate School, The Kingston Academy, Tarporley High School and Truro School. The Best Individual from the competition went to Vato Vepkhvadze of Barnard Castle, with Tessa Lovatt of Burgate winning Highly Commended and Adam Cramer of Queen Mary’s College winning the Commended prize.

All of the individual winners, as well as the winning schools and runners up, came away with excellent prizes courtesy of Hodder Education, Prospect Magazine and Oxford University Press.

No Debating Matters Championship would be complete without a host of exceptional judges, coming from all walks of life, to put students on the spot and substantiate their arguments. Debating Matters would like to thank them all for their brilliant contributions and giving up their time to ensure that young people have the opportunity to debate some of the most pressing issues facing society.

Whilst adapting to the new online format has not been without its challenges, it is a huge credit to the judges, pupils and teachers that the quality of the two tournaments has been exceptionally high, with genuinely thrilling debates in every group. Aided by the Debating Matters Topic Guides – a great introduction to the issues complete with a list of recommended readings and news items – the pupils took the ideas seriously and relished the ‘substance over style’ format that Debating Matters offers.

As we come to the end of a unique and often difficult year, Debating Matters is delighted that these championships have provided a ray of intellectual sunshine – and look forward to hosting several more in the New Year before, we hope, returning to in-person tournaments!


It has been a tough year for all of us, but especially for charities like ours. We are desperate to carry on providing the intellectual platform to the next generation, but we need your help.

If you know a business or organisation who wants to support our project of engaging young people in the world of ideas, please put us in touch with them. We love speaking to people from corporates, local governments, and other charities who share our passion for debate and ideas.

If you would like to donate prizes to the winning schools and best individuals, do let us know.

If you support our work and want to make sure it continues, you can donate to the boi charity which runs Debating Matters
. Every penny really does help and if you can arrange a regular donation then you can put Debating Matters on a secure footing.

If you work at a school or venue and want to host Debating Matters when in person events resume, please get in touch. We’d be delighted to work with you or your partners to bring Debating Matters back to real-life events.  

Launching the Debating Matters Online Championship

Throughout the pandemic, we at Debating Matters have strived to support teachers and pupils through the challenges and keep debate alive. Earlier in the year, we took Debating Matters Online, running several online debates between schools all around the UK. With restrictions on social events set to continue, we’re launching two initiatives to keep debate alive.

First, we are launching our first ever Debating Matters Online Championship.

We’re now recruiting for 6-8 school teams to take part in the first championship, which will be held over a period of two weeks after the October half term (exact dates TBC). Each team will have a minimum of two debates, and if they beat the other teams in their group they will progress to our first ever online final.

As ever, teams will be put on the spot by panels of distinguished judges, and a team of individual judges will be watching all the online debates to identify talented individuals. Schools will be encouraged to have supporters log on and participate by asking probing questions. In true Debating Matters style, the winning and runners-up team, as well as three top individuals, will come away with great prizes from our partners.

If you would like to register your interest, please email Mo Lovatt at stating when your school would be available to take part (during school hours or after school). A draw will be made and schools notified in the coming weeks whether they have been selected. We anticipate that with strong demand, Debating Matters will explore holding further online championships.

Second, where possible, we’d like to help schools new to debating by offering debate training and workshops.

Either in person or via zoom, we’d love to help get debate started in your school. We can offer packages to help students to construct arguments, get a debating society set up, and help pupils and teachers learn how to chair and judge the debates. We are offering these sessions at cost on a charitable basis to schools who need the help.

If you would like to hear more, please get in touch with us by emailing

Debating Matters Online – UK vs India

After seeing the success of the Debating Matters Online debates run during the Lockdown, former Debating Matters Director Tony Gilland took the spirit of DM Online and decided to engage some old contacts from his time running Debating Matters India (2008-2014). Tony organised three debates between Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and teams in India.

In this article, Debating Matters competitor Emma Gilland reports on the success of the series of debates:

Through the early month of lockdown many of us felt that not only were we missing out on school but in fact we were missing out on more than that, as all our time, thoughts and conversation were consumed by the dramas and injustices of lockdown. Although it could be seen that this brought a certain level of abnormality and interest it also was the centre of repetitive and dull conversation, which is why the re-ignition of the Debating Matters India online was such a great experience. 

“This international debating was an amazing experience which should be extended to allow the chance for others to try as it is especially broadening and exhilarating as the teams are adapting and reading the differences in debating style and viewpoints, much more than in a national competition as there is such a contrast in lifestyle and culture between the teams.”

Emma Gilland, Debating Matters Debater

Since the start of lockdown there had been various debates between schools and students, but this then changed into an international event between Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School (Faversham, Kent) and various schools in India as we extended ourselves to further distract from the lack of variation at home. There were three debates across the six week period which gained  momentum as the debaters began to feel more comfortable with the format and overall feel of an international debate. 

The first debate was a global issue, debating on whether populism is a threat to democracy; this was a heated and passionate debate full with real examples from many areas and time periods in contemporary society, especially relevant in the current political climate. This debate was a great start as there was so much compelling evidence laced through the debate combining awareness of current events with real clarity over the arguments which were well thought-through and very well presented. Through the debate there were historical, modern and theoretical examples deployed in response to the deep and technical questions by the judges. It was an exciting and passionate debate which was highly enjoyable for both the audience and the judges. The British team, from Queen Elizabeth’s, stole the debate due to the stronger structure of their arguments, the evidence used in their responses, and their ability to really target the questions with solid examples from a wide area of sources leaving little room for scepticism. However, in saying this it was seen as a very close debate with the only difference being the level and amount of examples through the debate. Overall the debaters felt that the strength and passion from the opposing side allowed them to really open their minds and look at the issues from different angles, making them not only better in the debate but leaving with a much more rounded and deeper understanding of the issue.

Following this we moved onto the complicated yet hugely influential birth strike movement debating on whether or not people should only have two children. This sparked a huge conversation and the opposing sides both were strong and clear on their arguments. The proposition focused on the huge impact needed to protect the environment and the moral arguments underpinning this perspective. The proposition argued the outcome could be achieved through incentives (rather than being forced), therefore still allowing for individual choice. However, through the debate the opposition questioned whether people would really have a choice? Do incentives in fact take that away and is it necessary to put that pressure on families? The opposition argued further that the consumer culture of the West is the real issue and the proposed restriction on the number of children is a distraction. Both sides held well throughout the debate but in the end it was the opposition, from the Indian school DPS Megacity, Kolkata, which won the debate. Their passion and clarity on the importance of choice won them the day, with their emphasis on the morality of choice (instead of any possible practical benefits) convincing the judges.

The final debate was another big contemporary conversation about whether childhood vaccinations should be compulsory. This was a stretching topic for both teams as they were dealing with complex issues such compulsion, liberty and the role of the state. Both sides made powerful arguments and demonstrated strongly held, well thought-through positions. The debate centred around the issue of what liberalism means, bringing in plenty of examples from contemporary events and culture. This made the debate especially enjoyable to watch as they brought in issues from today’s politics. The debate was lively and laced with both issues and principles. In the end, the British team won due to their ability to really undermine the opposition’s arguments and underpin their own, but overall it was a hugely enjoyable, well matched and very close debate to conclude the series. 

One special feature of Debating Matters is that it was clear how helpful and enjoyable the experience was for not only those debating but many of the judges and audience members. The difference in debate styles and culture kept everyone on their toes and opened our eyes to how much we can get out of talking and discussing some of these contemporary issues with people beyond our circle. The debates were a massive success as they opened our eyes through both our experience of debating and having our arguments challenged by the judges, but also through the opportunity they gave us to research into these topics and understand how many other  issues there are to be solved. This was especially needed in the current times as we have been so caught up in the personal restrictions of the lockdown. 


DEBATE ONE: “Populism is a threat to democracy

Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Kent
Teacher: Tom Finn-Kelcey
Debaters: Ellie Waller & Rishi Milward-Bose

Team Chennai
Teacher: Ragini Srinivasan, Indian Schools Debating Society
Debaters: Nitin Kishor & Rakshitha Hebbar

Nikunj Agarwal, strategic consultant, WP; alumnus, DM India
Dolan Cummings, associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story
Janaka Pushpanathan, Director, British Council South India

WINNER: Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School Kent

DEBATE TWO: “Climate Emergency: People should not have more than two children”

Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Kent
Teacher: Tom Finn-Kelcey
Debaters: Freya Moorhouse & Emma Gilland

DPS Megacity, Kolkata
Teacher: Anirban Roy
Debaters: Arth Agarwal &Vidyut Chattopadhyay

Debanjan Chakrabarti, director, East and Northeast India, British Council
Timandra Harkness, writer, comedian and broadcaster; author, Big Data: Does Size Matter?
Shreya Radhakrishnan, vice president, Goldman Sachs; alumnus, DM India

WINNER: DPS Megacity, Kolkata

DEBATE THREE: “Childhood vaccinations should be compulsory

Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Kent
Teacher: Tom Finn-Kelcey
Debaters: Ben Ansley & Beth Poulteney

Christ Junior College IBDP, Bangalore
Teacher: Manoj Varghese
Debaters: Siddharth Tugnait & Arjun Mahesh Guru

Professor George Thomas, chief orthopaedic surgeon, St. Isabel’s Hospital, Chennai
Shreya Radhakrishnan, vice president, Goldman Sachs; alumnus, DM India
Jacob Reynolds, partnerships manager, Academy of Ideas; co-convenor, Living Freedom and The Academy, boi charity

WINNER: Queen Elisabeth’s Grammar School

Debating Matters went online!

To help keep students engaged and support teachers with something exciting for their pupils to do, we took Debating Matters Online during the coronavirus lockdown.

The response we received from teachers, judges and Debating Matters alumni was hugely encouraging. We knew that Debating Matters has a wide network of supporters and all of your messages and offers of support were hugely appreciated (especially those – schools or judges – that we haven’t yet been able to involve!).

In the past weeks, we’ve engaged dozens of students, judges and teachers across six showcase online debates – read about them in detail here. We’ve seen cracking debates take place on everything from whether ‘Social media sites should filter out fake news‘ to whether ‘Britain should pay reparations for its colonial past‘. Many of the debates have taken on a new colour from the coronavirus crisis – the topic on compulsory vaccinations is just one example – but it has also been important to remind ourselves that as important as coronavirus is, there are a host of other moral, political and scientific questions that we all need to interrogate.

As well as getting to grips with important contemporary issues, and keeping intellects engaged whilst we follow social distancing, Debating Matters Online has given many pupils, teacher and professionals a reminder of the importance of meeting minds and forging social connections. In fact, we’ve been able to break down distance barriers like never before: whether its schools from London and Derry debating each other, alumni from Berlin joining in the conversation, or judges zooming in from Washington DC.

We’ll soon be sharing some video-snippets of how it all went down, but for now, we want to thank everyone who took part, and congratulate the winners: Cardiff Sixth Form College, Havering College, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Exeter College, Thornhill College Derry, and St Edward’s School Oxford. Likewise, the high standard of the debates meant that the judges had a series of very tough choices, and so we also want to send our commiserations to those teams who were just pipped to the post: Cirencester College, Magdalen College School, Queens School Bushey, East London Science School, and Durham High School for Girls.

Like many, we are anticipating that schools will be returning soon, and so schools will be able to take debate into the classrooms again. But until then, if there are any schools still eager to participate in DM Online, please do get in touch with Jacob Reynolds

Finally, a short plea from us. At the boi charity, we haven’t gone into furlough. In fact, we’ve been as busy as ever organising debates and preparing for online events. So if you would like to show your appreciation and help out a good cause, please consider donating to the boi charity.

DM Online: How to keep debating during the lockdown

We’re delighted to announce the launch of Debating Matters Online – our contribution to keeping debate alive during these difficult times. 

During the lockdown, its important that everyone does their bit to support one another and find new ways to keep social isolation at bay. That’s why we wanted to take Debating Matters Online, and provide materials to support teachers or parents who want to keep pupils intellectually engaged during the lockdown.

After a successful pilot debate (which you can watch here), we are making the full how-to guide available for teachers, students, and anyone interested in keeping debate alive. You can use it to organise your own debates.

You can find the guide on our website here. 

Alongside this guide, which anyone can use, the Debating Matters team will be organising a number of DM Online debates – we’ll invite judges, chair the debate, and match up interested schools to debate against each other. If you would like to take part, please email

A message from Debating Matters

With schools closed for the majority of students and lockdown underway, we want to offer some support for teachers thinking about what to engage pupils with. There is lots that can be done to generate a spirit of intellectual inquiry, discussion and debate.  

We’ve always referred to teachers as the ‘unsung heroes’ of the competition. Indeed, the resilience of many teachers and the hard work that organising classes remotely will entail means that teachers are ‘unsung heroes’ for society more broadly. We want to support teachers as much as possible. 

Whilst we can’t be together in person, we do have a number of things that people can do to keep debate alive whilst the schools are closed: 

  • Our topic guides are a great place to start to get to grips with some of the pressing questions of our time – questions that will not go away no matter how and when the pandemic is resolved. You can think about whether we should clamp down on ‘fake news’, whether western countries should pay reparations for colonialism, if AI should be welcomed or feared, and manymany more.

  • On top of this we will be publishing some guides over the next few days about how you can encourage students to do a Debating Matters debate remotely. We hope this will be useful resource and something you can plan for students to do without too much extra work on your part.

  • If you end up with some time to start planning for the future, you can also use the resources on the website to start to think about how to set a debate club up when you return

We’ll also stay active on social media, suggesting readings, topics, lectures and podcasts that will keep you busy, thinking, and critical. 

If you have any questions, suggestions, or want to share any ideas, please do get in touch with us. You should email Bernie Whelan, or call on 020 7269 9230. 

Over this period, the priority is following the government advice and staying safe. But hopefully alongside this we can all keep the spirit of debate alive, and sharpen our minds and arguments for when things go back to normal. 

Warmest wishes,

The Debating Matters team.

Humboldt Gymnasium clinch victory at Debating Matters Berlin 2020

A thoughtful and determined team from Humboldt Gymnasium beat eleven other schools from around Berlin to win the coveted Debating Matters Berlin trophy at an essential day of debate hosted by University of Applied Sciences Europe (UE) and supported by Freiblickinstitut. In a challenging and at times charged final on whether Germany should pay reparations for its colonial past, Humboldt, arguing in favour, triumphed over Lessing Gymnasium.

Humboldt Gymnasium, the winners of Debating Matters Berlin 2020

Lessing Gymnasium argued persuasively throughout the day, impressing with their intellectual depth as they won their way through debates on whether people should have fewer children to solve the climate emergency and whether social egg freezing empowers women. They then won their semi-final against Paulsen Gymnasium, arguing against mandatory vaccinations for children, in which they memorably cited the German Grundgesetz (‘basic law’) in defence of their case.

However, it was Humboldt who got the better of the arguments in a cracking final debate, with their team arguing passionately that Germany has a moral obligation to provide reparations to former colonies, citing the importance of Germany’s post-war reparations to Jews in Israel as a model.

The event was hosted at UE’s Berlin campus, and judges from the University joined others from around Berlin to put students on the spot to develop and justify their arguments. Students were warmly received into the University as the valuable partnership between Debating Matters and UE gave German pupils an opportunity to enter into the spirit of the unique Debating Matters format. Similarly, Freiblickinstitut provided invaluable support to the competition and have been a longstanding champion of Debating Matters and its ethos of open debate.

The judges awarded Giulio Polisi of Lessing Gymnasium the coveted Best Individual prize for his intellectual breadth and consistently excellent panel performances, with Federica Ballardini taking the Highly Commended prize in second place and Jakob von Bullion with the Commended prize.

Clockwise from top, the Best Individual Guilio Polisi, Highly Commended Federica Ballardini and Commended Jakob von Bullion receiving their prizes from Professor Filipe de Castro Soeiro


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 Jacob Reynolds on 020 7269 9231 or email

The students were all from:

  • Bertha-von-Suttner-Gymnasium
  • Eckener-Gymnasium
  • Gottfried-Keller-Gymnasium
  • Gymnasium Steglitz
  • Hans-Carossa-Gymnasium
  • Humboldt-Gymnasium
  • Leibniz-Gymnasium
  • Lessing-Gymnasium
  • Paulsen-Gymnasium
  • Schadow-Gymnasium
  • Werner-von-Siemens-Gymnasium
  • Wilma-Rudolph-Oberschule

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.

Debating Matters is a project of the boi charity. For more information on the charity, please visit

Follow Debating Matters on Twitter: @DebatingMatters

For further information about the competition, visit

For further information about Freiblickinstitut, visit

The Burgate School and Sixth Form return victorious from Debating Matters Southampton Championship

On Wednesday 5 February, a thoughtful and determined team from The Burgate School and Sixth Form beat seven other schools from the local area to win the coveted Debating Matters Southampton 2020 trophy at a stimulating day of debate hosted by Solent University and supported by NATS.

Burgate, Debating Matters stalwarts who were eager to win their first trophy, triumphed over King Edward VI School in a truly enlightening final on whether museums should repatriate colonial-era cultural artefacts.

The Burgate School and Sixth Form, the winners of Debating Matters Southampton

King Edward VI argued expansively throughout the day, impressing with their intellectual agility as they won their way through debates including mandatory vaccinations, corporate sponsorship of the arts, and whether people should have fewer children to solve the climate emergency.

The runners-up, King Edward VI School with Dr Brian McDonough, the sociology course leader, Solent University

However, it was Burgate who got the better of the arguments in an intense final debate, with their team arguing passionately that museums need to resist the politicisation of cultural objects and that claims about cultural ownership of objects are often tied up with a divisive identity politics.

The winning finalists from The Burgate School

The event was hosted at the inspiring Spark building at Solent University, with the university supplying several judges for the day who kept students on their toes throughout. Likewise, Debating Matters’ partners NATS – the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services – contributed to the competition by sending individual and panel judges. This extensive interaction between partners, judges, and students constitutes one unique element of the Debating Matters competition, which puts students on the spot to develop and substantiate their arguments.

The judges awarded Joe Kirby of Bay House School & Sixth Form the prize of ‘Best Individual’ for his excellent debating and penetrating questions, with Samuel Alford Itchen Sixth Form College given ‘Highly Commended’ and Antonia Jones of Dauntsey’s School awarded ‘Commended’.

Joe Kirby of Bay House School & Sixth Form, receiving the Best Individual prize from Emma Lynch of NATS


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 Jacob Reynolds on 020 7269 9231 or email

The students were all Year 12 and 13 sixth-form students from:

  • Alton College
  • Bay House School
  • The Burgate School
  • Dauntsey’s School
  • Itchen Sixth Form College
  • King Edward VI School
  • New College Swindon
  • St Swithun’s School
  • The Purbeck School

Created in 2002, Debating Matters is a national sixth-form debating competition for students from around the UK. 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.

Sturminster Newton Sixth Form seal victory at Debating Matters South West Championship

On Thursday 23 January, a measured and resilient team from Sturminster Newton Sixth Form beat seven other schools from Dorset and surrounding counties to win the coveted Debating Matters South West trophy at an enthralling day of debate hosted by Sherborne Girls School. The hosts, who won the 2018/19 Championship, were narrowly beaten in a tense and hard-fought final where the teams grappled with the issues surrounding repatriation of cultural artefacts.

Sturminster Newton Sixth Form, winners of Debating Matters South West

Ultimately, however, it was Sturminster Newton who managed to persuade the judges, arguing calmly under pressure that the repatriation was a risky endeavour that raises troubling issues about the cultural ‘ownership’ of art. Sherborne Girls came within sight of victory after fiery speeches about the damage of colonialism and continued presence of colonialist ideas within Western museums, but were ultimately unable to fully sustain their arguments in the face of challenges by the judges, points from the floor, and their opposition.

The runners-up, Sherborne Girls School

The finalists had battled through a tough day of debate, arguing convincingly in debates on ‘Climate emergency: People should not have more than two children’, ‘Autonomous vehicles will make driving safer’, and ‘Childhood vaccinations should be compulsory’.

The event featured a team of distinguished judges – including, among others, former MP Sir Oliver Letwin, Sunday Times bestselling novelist Lulu Taylor, and author and former director of the Royal Collection, Sir Jonathan Marsden. They put the students under serious intellectual pressure to justify their positions. As ever at Debating Matters, the students relished the opportunity to show off their research and demonstrate their arguments.

Thomas Matthew of Exeter College, receiving the Best Individual prize from Geoff Kidder, chief executive of the boi charity

The judges also awarded Thomas Matthew of Exeter College the prize of ‘Best Individual’ for his excellent debating and penetrating questions, with Laurence Hayward of Sturminster Newton given ‘Highly Commended’ and Alice McCormick of Sherborne Girls School awarded ‘Commended’


1. 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 Jacob Reynolds on 020 7269 9231 or email

2. The students were all Year 12 and 13 sixth-form students from:

  • Bryanston School
  • Exeter College
  • Gillingham School
  • Sherborne Girls School
  • Sherborne School
  • Sturminster Newton Sixth Form
  • The Gryphon School
  • The Purbeck School

3. Created in 2002, Debating Matters is a national sixth-form debating competition for students from around the UK. 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.

4. Debating Matters is a project of the boi charity. For more information on the charity, please visit

5. Follow Debating Matters on Twitter: @DebatingMatters