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Monday, October 21, 2019

Competitions #1 - Debate for England

In the first of an occasional series on debating competitions, we have a guest post from Izzy Fidderman of Debate England. In it, she explains how you can apply to debate for England. She also has details of an intensive training camp run by Debate England.

Applications to trial for the England Schools Debating Team are now open! The top five students across England will be selected to represent their country at the World Schools Debating Championships, which are being held in Mexico in July 2020. The chance to represent your country on the international stage is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If selected, students will receive world class coaching throughout the year delivered by some of the best coaches in the world, as well as the chance to travel to Mexico for the ten day tournament to compete as Team England. 

If you would like to apply to trial for the England Debating Team please fill in this link. We welcome applications from students aged 14-18 attending school in England (UK citizenship is not essential). Those invited to trial will have to attend a full day of debating trials in central London on 23rd of November, and must keep the 24th free too in case they make it through to day two.

There is also an opportunity to experience intensive training in the World Schools format in the World Schools Boot Camp, which runs this year on 16th and 17th November in Central London. 

World Schools Boot Camp was set up in 2016 as a debating training camp tailored uniquely to the World Schools Format. It follows a training program written and developed by Will Cook and Kenza Wilks (both ex-members of Team England, both world champions at the World Schools Debating Championships, and both individually ranked best speaker in the world in 2014 and 2017 respectively), and employs only the top coaches, all of whom have extensive experience in the World Schools format. Since 2016 the camp has grown and we now operate in London and Bermuda. 

Debaters of all experience levels are welcome to the Boot Camp: we will run a minimum of four streams, catering to all levels of experience. Classes will be small groups of 6-10 students. Each day will include small group sessions working on specific aspects of debate, with a particular focus on the World Schools style; lectures on areas of current affairs relevant to debating; and practice debates.

Registration for the camp is now open, and the link to register can be found here:  
The form should take about 10-15 minutes to complete and should be completed by the student with help from their parents when necessary.

The cost of registering is £250 per student: this includes breakfast and lunch on both days, all coaching costs and camp materials (such as an exercise book/pens). However, we are committed to providing financial assistance to all students who may require it, so we have a number of bursaries available that will be allocated on a means tested basis. If you would like to apply for a bursary please indicate so on your registration form. 

Registration will close on the 1st of November, but we would recommend applying early as we will be offering places on a first come, first served basis. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Tricks of the Trade #1 - anaphora, antithesis and argumentum ad populum

‘Rhetoric’ is a Greek word, meaning the art of persuasion. It’s not surprising that it’s a Greek word, as rhetoric was big in Ancient Greece. Rhetoric is an important part of democracy, which the Greeks invented (democracy is also a Greek word - it means ‘rule by the people’) as democracy, like debating, involves different ideas competing, supporters of each trying to persuade people to agree with them. 

Some people think that the Ancient Greeks sat around in the sunshine debating the issues of the day in a calm, rational manner, listening carefully to each other and nodding their heads appreciatively at a particularly well made point, pausing in their discussions only to chew an olive or sip some ouzo. It wasn’t like that. 

Thousands of men (I’m afraid they were all men - and slaves weren’t allowed either) would gather on a hill in Athens called the Pnyx for regular assemblies to discuss the business of the city. Supporters of different policies would put their point of view, but they had to fight to be heard. Interruptions, barracking and personal abuse were all routine. If you’ve ever watched the House of Commons and been shocked by how badly behaved MPs are compared to the models of discipline and decorum that are your lessons, well, Parliament is like a Year Seven class on the first day in September with the strictest teacher in the school compared to the Ancient Greeks. You had to be loud, confident, entertaining and wily to get people just to listen to you, never mind agree with you. And it wasn’t only the assemblies; the courts were like that too. The Ancient Greeks were very litigious (that is, they liked suing each other a lot) and the average citizen went to court half a dozen times in his life. But unlike in our system, juries did not consist of twelve people sitting quietly in a box listening to the evidence; they ran to the hundreds, and they didn’t hold back in letting the litigants know what they thought of them. 

So, rhetoric in Ancient Greece was big, and it became big business. There was a whole class of people called sophists, who made a very good living teaching citizens the tricks of the trade of rhetoric; how to use language to persuade. 

Persuading is what debating is all about. The trade of rhetoric is the trade of debaters. In this series of posts, we’re going to be learning some of the tricks of that trade. It’s useful to know them, as deploying them in the right way will help make your speeches more persuasive. They all have Greek words to describe them, which you can drop in if you want to impress your English or Classics teacher. I’ll also give them descriptions in English for clarity. There are lots, so I'll post them two or three at a time.

Anaphora (varied repetition)
Repeating the same phrase at the beginning of several phrases, sentences or paragraphs. Probably the most famous example is Martin Luther King’s speech in favour of equal rights for African Americans in Washington in 1963 in which he begins successive sentences with the phrase ‘I have a dream … I have a dream …’, fixing in his listeners’ minds his vision of a better America. (It has become known as the ‘I have a dream’ speech.) In a speech on the motion, ‘This house would make the use of homophobic language illegal’ you might begin several sentences with ‘Gay people walk in fear because …’, each time giving a different example of homophobic violence.

Antithesis (balanced contrast)
Comparing one thing with another in balanced clauses. In debating, you would normally use this to compare what you are advocating with what your opponents are advocating, making it clear by the comparison that your version is better. E.g. in the debate on making homophobic speech illegal, ‘Do we want a world in which gay people walk in fear, or a world in which they walk in freedom?’

Argumentum ad populum (appeal to the people; actually a Latin phrase).
A direct appeal to the audience. A good way to make an emotional connection with your listeners. It can be in the form of a question (‘Is there anyone in this room who would keep silent when they heard a gay person being abused?’) or a statement (‘I know that no one in this room would keep silent when they heard a gay person being abused.) Can be a high risk strategy if the audience is not on your side; they might not give you the answer you want.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Guest Post #2 - Should the West pay reparations for slavery?

This week we have a guest post from a Year 8 student at Godolphin and Latymer School, Antara Martins, about a recent debate she attended held by Intelligence Squared
Intelligence Squared present an exciting programme of public debates featuring high profile speakers. They also run debating workshops for students. Both are highly recommended! 

I recently attended a debate held by Intelligence Squared with the motion ‘The West should pay reparations for slavery'. It was a topic that provoked heated and passionate debate on both sides.

The speakers for the motion were: Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University and Esther Stanford-Xosei, a reparations activist and co-vice chair of the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe. Opposing the motion were Katharine Birbalsingh, Headmistress and co-founder of Michaela Community School in London and Tony Sewell, Educational consultant and CEO of the charity Generating Genius, which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to study science and technology at top universities. What I found most interesting was the fact that all debaters for and against the motion were descendants of slaves. 

The proposition stated that almost 12 million Africans were enslaved during the transatlantic slave trade and suffered inhumane cruelty; yet the only people to be compensated when slavery was abolished were slave owners and traders. The government’s justification was that slave owners had lost their business and it was only right to make up their lost earnings. In addition, until four years ago, British taxpayers were still paying off government pledged debt in 1833 of £20 million (40% of its national budget) in order to reimburse the owners of slaves when slavery was abolished. The sum was monstrous in 1833, equivalent to £17 billion today and it took the British taxpayer 182 years to pay off.

Another point put forward by the proposition was that the UK and US gained much out of slavery.  The Industrial Revolution would not have been possible without the wealth generated by slave labour. Britain’s major ports, cities and canals were built on invested slave money. Several banks can trace their origins to the financing of the slave trade. In the US even the Capitol and The White House were built by slaves. Capitalism itself is born out of slavery.

To conclude, the proposition emphasised that the repercussions of the slave trade remain even over a hundred years after its abolition. The lack of compensation paid to slaves and the philosophy of the Enlightenment thinkers who put whites at the top and blacks at the bottom of society created economic disparity, racism, discrimination and limited access to education and jobs for descendants of slaves. 

The opposition’s Tony Sewell wanted to take a more positive approach by citing that Africa is a strong and growing economy and the African people should not rely on handouts from the West to make them succeed; instead the West should make investments in Africa that can further improve the economy. They gave the example of how China invested in Africa. This was very well rebutted by the proposition speaker Kehinde Andrews, who mentioned that investing does more good for the Chinese people than the African people. 

Katherine Birbalsingh questioned the practicality of the motion stating that it would be impractical to pay reparations. It would be impossibly complicated to calculate the exact amount of compensation, or to work out to whom the compensation is owed, and in what proportion. Once again, the proposition quickly pointed out that if it was possible to calculate what we owed to the slave owners then surely it would be possible to do so for the slaves who worked without payment. 

The opposition’s closing argument stated that these slaves are no longer with us and slavery was an event that occurred over a hundred years ago. Whilst they were in agreement that slavery was cruel and brutal, they suggested that instead of focusing on the past, we could take steps to prevent it in the future and also tackle racism in the present day. The proposition  quoted Malcolm X in response:  “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that's not progress. If you pull it all the way out that's not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. " 

The proposition won by a small margin. It has been 154 years since slavery was abolished; yet still the wounds run deep. I am surprised by the lack of dialogue on this subject, and by the fact that people who are happy to inherit their ancestors' land and property do not want to know how it was acquired. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

How to debate #10 - building a proposition case

Debating is about changing the world.

Actually, it isn’t, most of the time, unless it’s a debate in parliament which results in a law being passed. However, policy motions, the most commonly used motions (see How to debate #1 - defining the motion) are about changing the way things are. Understanding this will help you, if you are the proposition, to build an effective case.

A useful way to think of building the case for change is to think in terms of NOW, THEN and ACTION.

NOW is the situation as it is.

THEN is where you want to get to.

ACTION is what gets you from NOW to THEN

The ACTION is what is at the centre of the motion; it’s what comes after ‘This house would …’

In order to make a case for the proposition, you need to prove that:

1. NOW is bad. 

2. THEN would be better.

3. The ACTION will get us to THEN.

You need to answer the following questions:

1. What’s the NOW?
2. What’s wrong with NOW?
3. What will THEN look like?
4. Why will THEN be better?
5. How will the ACTION get us to THEN?

So, how would you do this in practice?

Let’s take a very concrete policy motion: ‘This house would make it compulsory for all 18 year olds to do a year of community service.’

1.What’s the NOW?

18 year olds can do what they want when they leave school; go to university, get further training, get a job, or do nothing all day.

2. What’s wrong with NOW?

  • Young people think only of their own future, without any sense of the needs of others less fortunate than themselves.
  • As a result, society is very fragmented and lacking in solidarity.
  • Young people only learn a narrow set of skills.
  • Young people have little experience of the lives of people who are not like them.
  • Many young people, who do not have places at uni / jobs with prospects, lack a sense of direction and purpose.
  • Charities and voluntary organisations helping less fortunate people are understaffed.

3. What will THEN look like?

  • Every 18 year old would spend a year, before beginning study or work, helping people less fortunate than themselves.

4. Why will THEN be better?

  • Society will be more open minded, as people would grow up with a broader experience of life.
  • Society will be more united, as people would have a shared experience at a formative age.
  • Society will be more compassionate, as people would have been confronted with people less fortunate than themselves.
  • All 19 year olds will be equipped with basic, transferrable skills.
  • Charitable / voluntary projects will never be understaffed.

5. How will the ACTION get us to THEN?

  • By making the year of community service universal, with very few exceptions, this law would ensure all the benefits listed above.

Thinking in terms of NOW, THEN and ACTION is a very helpful way to break down, and then build up, a proposition case. It is also, by the way, a very useful skill to have in life, whenever you want to persuade people to embrace a change you think is desirable, whether that’s being loaned money to launch a new business; radically changing our way of life to cut carbon emissions; or being allowed to move into your sister’s bedroom now she’s gone to uni.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

How to debate #9 - stakeholder impact analysis

In our post on the mechanism we said that policy debates are about making things happen in the real world. Those things happen to people. 

The people are called stakeholders

What happens to them is called impact.

Understanding the impact that the action proposed by the motion will have on various groups of people will help you to define and defend your case more effectively if you are the proposition, and to attack it more successfully if you are the opposition. 

This process is called stakeholder impact analysis.

How does stakeholder impact analysis work?

Let’s take the popular motion ‘This house would make all schools co-educational.’ 

The first question to consider is: whose lives would be changed if this motion was enacted? In other words, who are the stakeholders?

Here’s a list:

  • School students
  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • Employers 
  • The government

The next task is to work out what impact the proposed change would have on each of these groups.  In other words, what impact would the change have?

A good approach is to draw up a table like this:


School students
They would all have to attend co-educational schools.

They would no longer have the choice of sending their children to single-sex schools.

Those who had only worked in single-sex schools (or preferred working in single-sex schools) would have to learn the different skills required for teaching both boys and girls.

The government
Changing single-sex schools to mixed schools would take up a great deal of the Department for Education’s time and money.

Eventually, everyone in the country would have attended a co-educational school. Would this make them better or worse at their jobs?

Now, once you’ve decided stakeholders and impact, place the stakeholders in rank order as to how important you consider their interests to be. There isn’t a right answer to this exercise, but how your ranking comes out reveals how you will approach the debate.

Suppose you choose this rank order:

1. Students
2. Parents
3. Government 
4. Teachers
5. Employers

The assumption this ranking reveals is that schools are there to meet the needs of the children who attend them. If you are the proposition, this will lead you to argue for the benefits co-education will bring to school students, e.g. the greater ease they will feel with the opposite gender. If you are the opposition, it will lead you to argue for the costs it will bring to school students, e.g. worse grades for girls. The point of clash will then be social benefits vs academic benefits, but it will be focused around how those benefits impact students personally.

What, though, if you came up with this order?

1. Employers
2. The government
3. Teachers
4. Parents
5. School students

This would imply a very different approach to education. This suggests a world in which children’s needs are seen as less important than the needs of society as a whole. The purpose of education in this order of priorities is to fit children for the world of work. So, the proposition might argue that co-educational schools prepare children better for the world of work because they teach them to collaborate better with the opposite gender as they will have to in the workplace; the opposition might argue that single-sex schools are more likely to produce women engineers and scientists, and that this is what the economy needs. The point of clash will still be social benefits vs academic benefits, but those benefits will be entirely from the point of view of employers, and to a lesser extent the government. The question the debate will have to answer is: which type of schools will bring more benefit to the national economy?

Or suppose another rank order:

1. Parents
2. Teachers
3. School students
4. Employers
5. The government

This ranking implies a libertarian approach. Libertarianism means maximising people’s freedom of choice. If parents are the most important people when it comes to their children’s education, they should be allowed to choose how their children are educated; it is not the government’s business to tell them what to do. Similarly, teachers should be able to choose what sort of school they want to work in, and students should be able to choose what sort of school they attend. If employers or the government don’t like those choices, bad luck. This approach only really works for the proposition for this motion. The point of clash will be individual freedom vs. collective benefit. If you are the opposition facing this kind of proposition, you have to find arguments that change the rank order such that employers and government move further up, thus tilting the debate away from freedom and back towards collective benefit.

So, when preparing for a debate:

  • Work out who will be affected by the proposed change.
  • Work out what impact it will have on them.
  • Decide which group of people you think is most important.
  • Frame your argument accordingly.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

How debating works #3 - choosing a motion

It’s easy for debaters to feel passive about motions. They’re just what you get given; you have to get on with proposing or opposing them, whether you like it or not. It’s important, though, to think actively about motions. You should think about how motions are constructed; what different types of motion demand from debaters; and what challenges and opportunities different motions present. 

What makes a successful motion?
  • A successful motion must be balanced. That is, it must be possible to make more or less equally strong arguments on both sides of the case, without stretching either evidence, reality or morality to unacceptable limits for either side. 

‘This house believes that climate change is a problem’ stretches the use of evidence to unacceptable limits for the opposition.

 ‘This house would make the use of jet-packs compulsory for all journeys within cities’ stretches reality to unacceptable limits for the proposition.

‘This house would introduce compulsory euthanasia for disabled people’ stretches morality to unacceptable limits for the proposition.

  • A successful motion must be narrow enough in scope to be discussed within a five minute speech, but also broad enough in scope to sustain a full debate.

‘This house would do more to stop climate change’ is too broad.

‘This house would stop Year 10s buying water in plastic bottles from Tesco's on the way to school when they could bring in their own bottles and fill them up from the water fountain outside the gym instead’ is too narrow, however well intentioned. 

  • A successful motion must be appropriate to the cultural, academic and age context of the debaters it is allocated to.

‘This house would respond to an economic recession by deploying a Keynesian model of deficit spending’ is probably not the ideal motion for the first session of the Year Seven debating club, though it could be a great exercise in an A-Level Economics class (see How To Use Debating in the Classroom).

‘This house thinks dogs make better pets than cats’ might come across as seriously patronising if used in the final of a sixth form debating competition, but is ideal for introducing Years Five and Six to debating.

‘This house would introduce stricter gun control laws’ will spark lively and impassioned discussions in the US, but doesn’t make much sense in the UK, where gun control laws are already very strict.

‘This house would abolish Christmas’ is a great one for a fun debate at the end of term in December in a church school, but doesn’t work so well in a Muslim school in May.

Be sensitive also to the way in which debate topics which may touch on personal issues for students. ‘This house believes that the fashion and beauty industry helps cause eating disorders’ is not the best choice if you have a student in the debating club who has, or is recovering from, an eating disorder. ‘This house would introduce automatic prison sentences for anyone carrying a knife’ might be best postponed if you have a student in the club close to someone who has recently been a victim of knife crime.

What different types of motion are there?

Policy vs principle

The most basic distinction is between policy motions and ideas motions; that is, motions which begin ‘This house would …’ and motions which begin ‘This house believes …’ (See How to define the motion)

In general, policy motions are easier to tackle, and are therefore more appropriate for novices, because it is easier to focus on specific and concrete measures. Ideas motions are harder to define and pin down, so are more challenging, but can also lead to very interesting discussions.

So, ‘This house would ban mobile phones from schools’ is very specific and concrete, and therefore relatively straightforward.

‘This house believes money does not bring happiness’ is much more vague and general, and needs very careful definition to pin it down, while at the same time opening up really big and fascinating questions about the true nature of happiness.

Familiar vs unfamiliar

Familiar motions deal with issues all students have direct experience of, usually to do with school. They’re great for novice debaters. 

Classic familiar motions are:
  • This house would make all schools co-educational.
  • This house would abolish school uniform.
  • This house would abolish homework.
  • This house would make school voluntary.
  • This house would abolish exams.

Unfamiliar motions deal with issues beyond students’ experience, and may require very specific knowledge to make sense of them. Students debating these motions have to extend themselves by doing some research / using their general knowledge. (See the factsheets on the British Constitutiontaxation and impeaching President Trump). These motions can work particularly well for long prep debates, or within lessons.

Examples of unfamiliar motions are:

  • This house would introduce proportional representation in General Elections.
  • This house believes nuclear power is the answer to our energy needs.
  • This house would introduce term limits for Prime Ministers.
  • This house would ban genetically modified food.
  • This house believes globalisation is a force for good.
Drawing up your own list of motions is a very worthwhile exercise. A good stock of motions is an invaluable resource for a school debating club, providing material for practice in training sessions, and also to use in any internal competitions you run. The more motions you have, the more you understand how motions work, and also the more you understand how to analyse motions when you are preparing for a debate.