Debate Timing & Structure

This is the standard format of a Debating Matters debate, and is used throughout the competition year.

Two teams per debate argue for opposing positions on an issue. There are two students per team per debate. A Chairperson sits with the four competing students at one table. The Chairperson directs all proceedings and keeps the debate to time. A panel of three judges poses questions to debaters, sitting at an adjacent table that is placed at an angle to enable them to make eye contact with the debaters and audience. Unlike traditional schools debating, there are no points of order or points of information, no time keeper other than the Chairperson, and opening and closing speeches are given uninterrupted.

Introductions by the Chairperson
  minutes 0-5
The Chairperson introduces the debate and the judges before introducing each debater in turn (students will have been asked to provide short biographies in advance).

Opening presentations  minutes 5-20
Each debater is allowed 3 minutes to make their opening presentation. Presentations alternate between the two teams, beginning with the first student arguing for the motion.

Judges’ Questions  minutes 20-35
The judges pose questions to each team in turn, with the time split evenly between the two teams. The Chairperson will ask each judge to ask one question to the team arguing for the motion. The team arguing for the motion is then asked to respond to the three questions from the judges. The same then happens for the team arguing against the motion.

The purpose of the judges’ questions is to push debaters to go further in their arguments, to substantiate their statements and to demonstrate a more complex and sophisticated grasp of the debate and the key issues at stake.

Audience Questions & Team Exchanges  minutes 35-50
The Chairperson invites questions from the audience, who are encouraged to say what they think on the topic, ask questions and participate fully in the debate. Speakers from the floor will be asked to give their names and schools and they have a chance of being awarded prizes at the end of the debate for individual performance. The Chairperson will take two rounds of four or five questions in a row from the audience and may direct questions to each team at their discretion. Each team will then be given brief opportunities to respond to those questions and comments that they think are the most relevant and interesting. Debaters are not expected to respond to every question.

During this period, teams will be allowed to directly challenge each other and pose questions to their opponents. We want to encourage this period to be a free-flowing exchange of ideas, and the Chairperson will ensure that a balance is struck between teams responding to each other, as well as dealing with audience questions.

Final Remarks  minutes 50-55
Each student debater is then allowed up to one minute to sum up their argument or make a brief closing point.

Feedback and comments from the Judges  minutes 55-65
The judges then offer constructive feedback to each team in turn, commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments.

Audience vote and the Judges’ decision  minutes 65-70
The judges confer and reach a consensus decision. An audience vote will be taken by the Chairperson after the judges have left the room to reach their decision - just for fun - but will have no bearing on the judges’ decision. The judges’ will return and present their decision, and the reasons for making that decision, to the teams. The judges’ decision is final.

Note: the only exception to these timings is that during the Champion of Champions debates, more time may be allocated, at the discretion of the Chair, to audience questions in recognition of the larger audiences at these events.


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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