Debating Matters 20 for 20

Debating Matters is 20 years old – and we’re celebrating throughout 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’re planning 20 events and initiatives over the next year to mark the occasion. Some have already happened, but more are being planned, so watch this space.

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. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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