TBSHS Debaters Compete at Two Finals Days
ESU Mace Final and Cambridge University Schools’ Competition
For the second time in three years, a team from the school reached Finals Day of the oldest interschool competition, the English Speaking Union Mace. In 2021, TBSHS competed in this event online, but this year we travelled to Dartmouth House in Mayfair. From an initial entry of around 350 schools from all over England & Wales, the regional champions were split into two groups of six for the semi-finals. As well as TBSHS, our room contained four independent schools and a grammar school from Kent.
The first debate, “This house would boycott the works of artists who have committed morally reprehensible acts”, was proposed by Eltham College from South East London and opposed by St Catherine’s School, Surrey. The former spoke in favour of individuals having the choice to boycott works of art, arguing that such democratic action would be self-regulated and would not inconvenience the public. The Opposition pointed out that moral standards change with time and that the motion advocated censorship, which silences the conversation about artists’ work. Both teams structured their contributions well, but tended to read their speeches, which limited the extent of their engagement with the audience.
The second debate saw St Paul’s Girls’ School, widely regarded as one of the leading debating schools in the country, proposing the motion “This house believes that housing policy should aim to create economically diverse neighbourhoods”. Their opening speaker claimed that such a policy, which would subsidise affordable housing for poorer families and expect the rich to invest in improving infrastructure in disadvantaged areas, would end the poverty cycle. In response, Tom Millar described the motion as illogical because it tinkers with a symptom of inequality rather than addressing its root causes, He went on to explain the economic and practical ineffectiveness of the motion, pointing out that dispersing poorer families makes it more difficult to provide them with the improved amenities that they need. Tom spoke confidently, establishing good eye contact and weaving rebuttal neatly into his speech
St Paul’s second speaker, a member of the England Schools team, reinforced the previous arguments about integrating society in order to reduce inequality, adding that economic separation effectively means racial segregation since ethnic minorities tend to earn less. She also accused our team of supporting an ineffective and unfair status quo. This was emphatically rejected by Georgi Petkov, who reminded her that we argued for greater support, targeted at the most needy. He then introduced a new perspective into the debate, asking the audience to imagine what it would feel like to be the main wage earner for a low-income family living in an expensive high-income neighbourhood. Georgi used plenty of vocal expression, managing a pleasing variation in the pace and power of his speaking.
After a short floor debate, Toby Ford closed the case against the motion, explaining why he felt his side had defeated their opponents on the grounds of efficiency, feasibility and class dynamics. He also made a good job of answering questions raised by members of the audience and finished by pointing out that opposing the motion represented a realistic viewpoint. This was a well-structured speech that rounded off what was undoubtedly the team’s best performance, despite the pressure of the occasion. The summary speech from St Paul’s followed a similar pattern.to Toby’s contribution with, of course, a different view of who had won the debate.
In the third debate of the morning, Mayfield Grammar School (Kent) proposed that important decisions about a child’s health should be made by medical professionals and not by the parents, opposed by Solihull School from the West Midlands. Mayfield focussed on the value of the professionals’ extensive training and experience, along with their greater ability to view the situation objectively, whereas Solihull stressed the parents’ superior, more holistic, knowledge of their own child and readiness prioritise the patient’s best interests.
After lunch the judges delivered the verdict that St Paul’s Girls would progress to the Grand Final because their arguments were the mostly clearly articulated and evidenced. This was a valid decision, although their skills in delivery and expression, an area in which TBSHS showed up very strongly, were less impressive.
In the Grand Final, St Paul’s Girls had to propose that it is legitimate for environmental groups to use the destruction of property to use the destruction of property to further their aims. They argued that governments the world over are not taking the steps required to halt climate change fast enough and that targeted destruction, for instance of property belonging to corporations causing widespread pollution, would rally support to environmental causes. In response, the team from The King’s School Worcester described the motion as morally unjust, since nobody is above the law and said that destructive protest encourages activity such as looting. Again, the logic and clarity of the points made by SPGS won them the victory.
Team coach, retired teacher Tony Fraser, commented, “The team improved with every round of this competition and really did the school proud. Far from being overawed by the occasion and the splendour of Dartmouth House, they rose to the challenge and gave the eventual winners a very good run for their money. Congratulations to them and many thanks to Alex Banhidai, Luca Ollandini & Max Porter, who gave them excellent support throughout the day”
Cambridge University Schools’ Competition
Nine days before the conclusion of the ESU Mace, Toby Ford & Georgi Petkov were also in action at Finals Day of the Cambridge Schools’ competition at the world-famous Union Building. This was an extremely high-quality international event involving 68 teams, including representatives from China, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines, Zimbabwe & Canada. After a first-round third place behind very strong teams from Singapore and Eton, I felt they were unlucky to be placed fourth in their second debate when opposing the idea that international sporting events such as the Olympics should have a permanent host nation. However, the afternoon session went a little better. Opening the case against the motion “This House Supports the increased use of social media for seeking & providing advice”, they finished a very close third. In the fourth round, the team finally got the opportunity to speak first in a debate, namely “This House Would Ban Corporate Funding of Research in Higher Education Institutions”. They argued strongly that the direction of research and the publication of results should not be determined by commercial interests, as this would tend to unfavourable findings not being published. They also pointed out that corporations are more likely to support scientific research, so that implementing the motion would ensure a more level playing field for the Arts. This was their best performance of the day and earned a well-deserved second place ahead of international schools from Zimbabwe and Shropshire. Just reaching this stage of the competition was a considerable achievement, matched by only a few state schools, and Georgi & Toby deserve much praise for their very positive approach to the occasion.