It’s often said debate is the mark of a healthy democracy. I think that’s absolutely true.
Debate means free speech, the critical exchange of ideas, and willingness to engage with opposing views. The best debaters are the ones who’ve taken the time to think about the other side’s argument, which is why debate can promote open-mindedness and tolerance.
Debate’s also a fantastic way for young people to learn important life skills, notably the confidence to speak in public, as well as the ability to construct a coherent argument and challenge another person’s point of view in a way that’s respectful and effective.
For all these reasons, the South East Cambridgeshire Schools Debating Competition continues to be the highlight of my year.
This year’s competition started in October when I welcomed students from Ely College, King’s Ely, Impington Village College, Linton Village College, Soham Village College, and Witchford Village College to the Cambridge Union for a debating workshop, led by the brilliant Debate Mate team. Over a full day, the students went through the skills that make a good debater and had the chance to put into action what they learned with a full debate at the end of the workshop.
Then I set each school a challenge: I gave them a topic and asked them to arrange a debate. Having visited all six schools in the past few months and watched half a dozen brilliant debates, I can feedback that every school and student passed the challenge with flying colours! The high standard made it extremely difficult to choose just two students from each school to go through to the Parliamentary final.
At the end of April, it was my pleasure to welcome the 12 finalists to Parliament, alongside a number of their classmates who’d come to support. There were two motions on the order paper: This House believes that only adults should be allowed to join social media and This House believes GCSEs should be abolished.
To say I was impressed with the quality of contributions, both in terms of content and delivery, would be an understatement. The level of thought, research, and preparation each finalist had undertaken beforehand was evident and the debates were a delight to watch.
A big thank you to everyone who took park, particularly William from Linton Village College and Rose and Marina from Impington Village College who were awarded prizes for their especially dazzling contributions.
Time to start planning next year’s competition!