TBSHS Debates in ‘Oxbridge’ Finals
Oxford Schools and Cambridge Schools Debating Competitions
Oxford Schools Competition
The second half of last term has been a very busy one for the school’s speakers, with some of our competitions returning to ‘face to face’ debating for the first time in two years. The biggest of these took place at the world-famous Oxford University Union. From an initial entry of hundreds of schools Elliot Wood & Finn Lihoreau made up one of over 100 teams, including representatives from The Netherlands, Canada & Hungary, as well as the likes of Eton, Winchester and St Paul’s Girls School, to do battle over four rounds of debates. They were supported by Mr Alexander who, in the unavoidable absence of the team’s usual coaches, had volunteered to accompany them.
In the first debate of the day, “This House Believes that social media’s adoption of child-only versions of their platforms does more harm than good, TBSHS opened proceedings, arguing that social media companies were dodging their responsibilities by leaving regulation issues unresolved and lulling parents into a false sense of security, while leaving children vulnerable to addiction and alienation. Although the judge felt that parts of their case were not fully developed, she awarded them second place.
The second round saw TBSHS leading the opposition to the introduction of a Universal Basic Income. Finn pointed out that such a measure would reduce the incentives for seeking work and argued that targeted benefits represented a better way of helping those in need. Elliot explained that UBI would merely cause greater social division between workers and those out of a job. He added that it would also lead to wage cuts, with companies thus being able to pay bigger dividends to rich shareholders and widening inequality. In addition, both speakers offered strong rebuttal to their opponents, earning them a victory over three English independent schools and completing a very pleasing morning.
Elliot & Finnn’s excellent start propelled them into a very tough room, with St Paul’s School, South Hampstead High School and St Paul’s Girls’ where they had to close the case in favour of “Parents Should not inflate their children’s expectations of what they are capable of achieving”. Despite expressing some powerful ideas about the values of intrinsic motivation and the dangers of children being set up to fail, they had to be content with fourth place after St Paul’s Girls had pre-empted most of their best arguments.
Undeterred the team set about the fourth-round motion “This House Regrets the rise of citizen Journalism”, where they were drawn to speak last. Finn argued that citizen journalism was a natural modernisation of the profession that kept traditional media on their toes and stated “I don’t suppose BBC News will ever get 100 million views”.
Summarising the Opposition case, Elliot identified “Who creates the best society?” as the key question of the debate and citizen journalism as the answer, because it encourages everyone to listen to the disempowered. This excellent team performance earned TBSHS what the judge described as a clear win.
Elliot & Finn finished in 20th place overall out of 104 teams well above any others from the East of England. In addition, TBSHS was also the highest-placed British state school in the event.
Cambridge Schools Competition
The following weekend, Max O’Reilly & Nabil Shah travelled to the equivalent event at Cambridge Union. This ‘hybrid’ event, with some teams attending in person and others online, was restricted to 64 teams, including speakers from The Philippines, India, Canada and a German-Swiss international school based in Hong Kong, in addition to well-known British schools. The overall standard was therefore extremely high, as our team discovered in their first debate “This House Believes that high school English classes should study contemporary works (e.g. Suzanne Collins) rather than classics such as Jane Austen”. Faced with the difficult task of speaking last against the motion, they were given fourth place behind winners from St Paul’s Girls.
Bolstered by the judge’s feedback and advice from Dr Coke-Woods, Nabil & Max then had to open the case against the motion “This House Believes that environmentalists should co-operate with corporations instead of actively opposing them”. Unfortunately, first to speak in this debate was an extremely combative team from Manila, who went on to win the entire event and their arguments consigned our team to the disappointment of another fourth place.
Refreshed by lunch, and the determination that “things can only get better”, the team tackled a wordy motion, the gist of which was that a woman should be cast as the next James Bond.. Meanwhile Max & Nabil, closing the case for the motion, produced some creditable arguments and were unlucky to achieve only a third place.
In their last round, TBSHS were once again drawn in the traditionally tricky ‘bottom half’ of the debate, this time supporting the motion “This House Believes that democratic states should not own or run media companies”. Arguments from the two Irish teams that spoke first focussed mainly on the relative merits of their native national broadcaster RTE and independent organisations such as Fox News, and which of them was least biased. Max argued that where state media existed, they would inevitably dominate the scene and the government expenditure on them would be better spent on education or welfare services. Summarising for the motion, Nabil identified the role of the media and concerns about bias as two key areas of dispute, and accused the Opposition of relying on assumptions. He also reiterated the economic benefits outlined by Max. The team felt that this was their best performance of the day and were rewarded with a second place. Max & Nabil finished in the bottom half of the results table, but they still deserve great credit for reaching this stage of the competition.
Retired teacher Tony Fraser commented, “The fact that TBSHS was one of only three state schools in the UK to be represented at both Oxford and Cambridge Finals reflects the commitment of our students to sustaining our position as a top debating school. Well done to them and many thanks to the teachers who gave up their time to support them.”
Headteacher Dale Reeve added, “The students gain so much confidence from debating and it forces them to develop a much deeper understanding of important social issues. I am delighted not just by the great success of our teams, but also by the fact that no fewer than 26 different students have represented the school this year. To be competing so well against schools from all over the world and some of the best resourced independent schools in the country is a great accolade for TBSHS. As ever, it would not be possible without the incredible willingness and expertise of the staff involved and the quick wits and dedication of the students”.