It’s now time to give every child in England access to debating.
On Friday, England won the World Schools Debating Championships in Germany, defeating Canada in the Grand Final arguing that “This House believes that states should be allowed to pay other states to relocate and settle refugees”. 54 national teams competed at the tournament and the national team had to navigate 12 debates to get to the final. A remarkable achievement given the huge improvements in the quality of debating worldwide (the last 8 also involved Pakistan, Denmark, Peru, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong).
Andrew Fitch (a teacher in North London) and I were appointed as co-coaches in September to work with the team of five over 10 gruelling months by developing their speaking ability, sharpening their rebuttal, working on their strategic thinking and broadening their knowledge base (most of the topics at the tournament are announced one hour before the debate without access to the internet or a coach). One of the greatest experiences that any mentor, coach or teacher can have is seeing the young people they work with reach their potential. Now we hope that this victory will inspire thousands of others to reach theirs too.
Debating is an incredible activity. It develops the confidence of young people, it helps them structure their thoughts, which in turn improves their essay writing. Debating also develops a curiosity about the world which encourages young people to read more. By being able to respond to an argument quickly they are more likely to thrive in a university or job interview. The members of this year’s team will use those skills for the rest of their lives. However, there has been a gap in the provision of activities like debating for far too long. Thankfully, things are changing. Incredible organisations such as the English-Speaking Union (ESU) and Debate Mate (both members of the Fair Education Alliance, with the ESU being the sponsor of the England Team) have made huge progress in getting more young people from deprived communities to take up debating. I personally benefited hugely from the ESU setting up a debating club in my school in Newham, one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. One of the speakers from this year’s championship winning was a participant on the Debate Mate programme. The Fair Education Alliance’s Impact Goal Three recognises that young people developing key strengths like character is the key to closing the education gap. We need to give more support to these organisations to help them transform even more lives.
The momentum from this win should be used to set out an ambitious but achievable goal for 2020 - that every child in England should have the opportunity to be part of a debating programme or a debating club. This goal can be reached with the backing of a government that wants to put social mobility at the forefront of its agenda and the willingness of a number of organisations to work collaboratively.
Moreover, this year’s team also highlighted why diverse team perform better. The team had pupils who were born overseas, pupils who had been educated in different types of schools and pupils who had different academic interests. There was no trade-off between diversity and success – our diversity helped contribute towards our success.
The sustainability of the team’s global success can only be truly secure when every child, in every type of school has the opportunity to get involved in an activity that can potentially change their life forever as it has done for Ed Bracey, Ife Grillo, Archie Hall, Rosa Thomas and Kenza Wilks – the new World Schools Debating Champions.
Director of Fair Education Alliance
Co-coach of the England Schools Debating Team