TBSHS Debaters end the Year on a High

Latest Debating Report

Date published: Thu 7 Jan 2021   Author: HLH/ADF   Category: News   Share: Share on facebookShare on TwitterShare on MySpaceShare by Email


The final weeks of last term saw some notable successes for the school’s Year 12 debaters. Firstly, Elliot Wood and William Worthy were both selected for the first day of trials for the team to represent England at the World Schools Debating Championships in the summer. The fact that only 60 students from all over the country reached this stage reflects their qualities as speakers and the strength of debating in the school. Unfortunately, Will had to drop out because of a prior commitment, but Elliot came through a gruelling day, involving a general knowledge quiz and no fewer than four debates, to qualify for the second stage along with 22 other speakers. Although he did not manage to progress any further, he said that he had enjoyed the challenging process and felt that he had given some of his best speeches and had learned how to improve still further.

A few days later Will & Elliot joined forces to represent TBSHS at the regional round of the Cambridge Union Schools’ Competition, held online. They were joined by a promising ‘novice’, team consisting of their fellow Year 12 students Leyla Bubb & Max O’Reilly, both in their first interschool competition. There were twenty-eight teams altogether, drawn from the East of England, including representatives from Oundle, the Perse and Norwich School, vying over four rounds of debating for just three places in the international final.

The first debate, “This House Would Reserve a Number of Seats in Parliament for Individuals Under the Age of 30”, saw both our teams opening the case against the motion. Facing a team from the Perse School and two from Kimbolton, Max spoke confidently, pointing out that MPs elected under the age of 30 could end up sitting in Parliament for far too long. He also argued that the opening speaker’s proposal of 30 to 40 reserved seats would have little effect on government decisions, as MPs of all ages would vote along party lines. The second Perse speaker added little that was new to the debate and was followed by Leyla, who started rather nervously. However, once into her stride, she dismissed the claim that younger MPs would make the Commons more representative, since they would have less life experience and would, in all likelihood, be drawn from similar, affluent backgrounds.  I felt that the two ‘closing’ teams performed well, adding new arguments and summarising the debate reasonably thoroughly. The judge was clearly less impressed, awarding first place narrowly to Leyla & Max and praising the quality of their rebuttal and willingness to raise points of information. Meanwhile, Elliot & Will gained a close second place behind an undergraduate ‘swing’ team recruited to provide four teams in the room.

The second motion of the day was an old, but still very topical, favourite “This House Would Ban Essential Workers from Striking”. I watched Will & Elliot, who were closing for the Opposition. The opening teams in their room took a comparatively narrow view, concentrating on the emergency aspects of public services and the threat to life if they were allowed to strike. In his well-ordered speech, Will really opened up the debate, pointing out that many other workers, supermarket employees and those in energy supply industries, have proved to be essential, as well as examining the future effects of the proposed ban. On a practical note, he also asked what punishments would be handed out to workers defying the ban.  The final speaker had few answers to Will’s points and his speech was eclipsed by Elliot’s eloquent and carefully constructed summary, which provided the required overview of the whole debate. Supporting his partner’s points, he also described the motion as an attack on democracy and argued convincingly that, if implemented, it would do more harm than good. In his feedback the judge praised the TBSHS team for taking a wider view of the motion than the others and for developing their arguments better, making it clear why they were both valid and important. Elliot & Will were awarded a well-deserved first place. Max & Leyla, speaking first for the motion were delighted, if rather surprised, to find that they too been declared the winners in their room.

The morning’s results (probably our best competition ‘first half’ in recent years) meant that both our teams would meet other strong pairs, including each other, after lunch. This duly occurred, with Will & Elliot speaking second in favour of the third motion “This House Would Allow Prisoners to Volunteer for Experimental Medical Trials in Exchange for Reductions in Their Sentences” and Leyla & Max in a similar role against it. The Proposition had much the better of the opening half of the debate, arguing that prison should focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution, but Will was able to introduce two new points. In response to the Opposition’s concerns about the dangers of experimental trials he explained that they would be continually evaluated. In addition, he stated that society would appreciate the prisoners’ contribution, making them feel more integrated. In response Leyla, whose speech showed more structure than in the first round, argued that the motion was unethical, as it took advantage of prisoners’ wishes to be free and furthermore, was not equally open to all (for instance those with allergic reactions). Elliot delivered another good summary speech, identifying the key points of contention and demonstrating why he felt his side had won. Giving a summary speech is notoriously difficult, but Max, in his first attempt at the task, made a very creditable effort, taking on most of Elliot’s case and drawing attention to Leyla’s arguments about ethics. 

 Elliot & Will finished a very close second in this debate (the judge praised the strength of their responses to  opponents’ points and said that with better prioritisation of their own arguments they could have won) with Max & Leyla gaining a very respectable third place.

Both our teams therefore went into the last round with 7 team points out of a possible 9, placing them near the top of the overall table. In this debate, speakers had to put themselves in the place of a talented person in their early twenties who had the choice between a high paid job offering high pay (such as a banker or corporate lawyer) and one that offered lower financial reward but fulfilled a passion (e.g. a chef or teacher). Both TBSHS teams had to advocate for the latter choice. In the opening speech in his room, Elliot made a very powerful case, pointing out the positive aspects such as a better work-life balance, spending more time with friends and family and consequently better mental health, thus benefitting society twice over. When the following speaker suggested that a higher salary meant more money to spend on one’s children (unwisely linking this to an attack on the standard of state education), Elliot’s question “What is better for children, your time or your money?” demolished that point. Supporting him, Will argued that happy workers are more productive and pointed out that people who are passionate about their jobs, such as teachers and nurses, inspire others in a way that bankers never can. All in all, this was a very strong showing from our team that earned a well-deserved win.  Unfortunately, Leyla & Max had the more difficult task of speaking second for the motion and, in a very much closer result, were unlucky to be placed fourth.

After a mercifully short wait, we were delighted to learn that Will & Elliot had finished a very close second overall, thus qualifying for Finals Day and Max & Leyla were placed eighth. Further good news came with the individual speaker ratings for the day. Elliot and Will were 3rd equal, just ahead of Max in 5th place, with Leyla (who only started debating in September) not far behind in equal 12th.

Retired teacher Tony Fraser commented, “With both teams in the top third and all our speakers in the top quarter, this was an excellent day’s work. Speaking in the same team for the first time, Elliot & Will were in commanding form, working really well together and thoroughly deserving their success. I was also extremely impressed by Leyla and Max in their interschool debuts. It was particularly pleasing to see how they learned from each debate and acted on the judge’s advice in subsequent rounds. Congratulations and many thanks to all four of our speakers for giving up so much of their time to do the school proud.”