John Milnes-Smith
Graveney School

Alumni watch on as slightly awkward and halting debates in the classroom transform into some of the most impressive and heated intellectual discussions.

BSc International Relations and History, London School of Economics

Going into my final year at university, it is now some three years ago since I competed in the Institute of Ideas Debating Matters Competition as a sixth form student. However, I struggle to think of any other competition or event which has left a bigger imprint on my life. A competition which aims to take young people seriously, Debating Matters gave me both the confidence and ability to take on some of the most important and challenging issues of today. And it is because of this that, having come second in the National Final of the competition, I chose to stay on as a dedicated alumnus of the competition, travelling from event to event to help organise and chair debates across the country.

When I first began debating at the beginning of sixth form, I was a very different person from the one I am today. I still remember the first time I went to my school debating club. Quiet and awkward, I was intimidated by the whole affair. However, Debating Matters helped me develop both the self-confidence and ability to be able to articulate and put forward my own ideas and arguments. The format of the competition provided for this; by emphasising substance over style, it offered a platform to those who otherwise would be drowned out in a debate. This meant that, while my rhetoric was at first poor, what Debating Matters allowed me to do was really investigate and get to grips with an issue, and from there make a calculated and well informed argument which could tear apart any person loud but full of hot air. This in turn facilitated an increase in my self-confidence, that if I knew what I was talking about and was prepared to listen to others, I could take on nearly anything. This confidence and ability to articulate an argument is something that I have taken with me from the competition to university, to seminars and societies, and is something I will take with me to whichever profession I should choose.

One of the main reasons I chose to stay on as alumnus was to make sure that young people from across the country could take advantage of the same opportunities that Debating Matters offered me. Three years on, I realise that the skills I acquired through debating have only become more important as I go into the working world. It therefore it only becomes more rewarding to play a part in helping other young people acquire such skills. As the competition progresses over the year, I will watch on as the same sixth formers grow in confidence, intellect and ability to take on ever more challenging arguments. Alumni and judges watch on as slightly awkward and halting debates in the classroom transform into some of the most impressive and heated intellectual discussions. This is an experience that has yet failed to either impress or reward. 


Thursday 27 June:
Oxfordshire Championship at Oxford Union, in partnership with Magdalen College School and Oxford Festival of Arts

Friday 5 July:
North East Championship at Durham Sixth Form Centre


Find a list of all our previous championship events here.


Bernie Whelan, our DM coordinator, is raising money for Debating Matters. To stage one of our Championships for six to 12 teams costs £6,000. Find out more on Bernie’s Wonderful fundraising page.


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