Debating Matters Aimhigher

Following a one-off training event run by the Debating Matters team for the Aimhigher Peninsula Programme in summer 2008, we were delighted to be invited to support the Aimhigher Peninsula Programme in running an experimental day-long tournament in the South West for Year 11 pupils. The event took place at the University of Plymouth on 17th November 2008.

Debating Matters provided training in advance to Aimhigher staff to allow them to go into schools in advance of the event and work with the students on their research and preparation for the event. A Peninsula Programme Officer worked with two schools each, delivering between three and four one and a half hour training sessions to each team. During sessions, students were also introduced to the format of a debate, in addition to what was expected of them. Specific roles were assigned to the 5 team members and those students speaking on each topic were chosen. Those students not speaking prepared questions to put to the other teams from the audience. School students were given various newspaper articles from the Topic Guides to encourage and develop their research and analytical skills.

The approach adopted was in keeping with that of the Debating Matters format, with a strong emphasis on a high level of preparation by students in advance and the involvement of a panel of judges to quiz and put the students under intellectual pressure on the day. The main departure from the format employed was to allow for a larger team of students on each side of a debate, with each student speaking for a shorter period of time than would normally be the case.

The topics chosen for debate were: “Nuclear Power is the Best Alternative to Fossil Fuels”, “Animal Experimentation Cannot be Justified” and “Household Recycling is a Waste of Time”

The judges involved were from a variety of higher education faculties/schools, in addition to Student Union representatives from the University of Plymouth. They were provided with reading materials in advance, and were informed of the events’ main aims and of their roles.


Overall, 95% of the students found the day to be “Interesting” to “Very Interesting”.
92% of the students said the tournament had significantly helped them to develop their analytical skills.
92% stated they had gained significant knowledge of how to “develop reasoned arguments.”
94% gained more knowledge to “engage with wider social issues.”
85% said they had gained significant knowledge of how to “cope with pressure”.
100% of the teachers that attended said the event had helped students develop all of the above skills and that they would all enter a tournament such as this again.

Overall feedback from both the students and the teachers involved was really positive. All the rounds went very well and there was some excellent judging and strong debating from the students (most of whom had never previously experienced any formal debating or read out a speech in front of an audience before). Here are some of the comments received about the day:

“We are the champions…they did us both proud. I can’t remember the last time I felt so nervous.”  (Teacher from Bideford College)

“A brilliant day, I enjoyed the competition!” (student from West Exe Technology College).

“I love today!  It was a great experience as debating and researching may be useful for the future!”  (Student from Bideford College).

“Challenging but fun!” (Student from Humphry Davy)

“...the students walked away from the competition knowing that they had won and how very proud I was of them.” (Teacher from Penryn College)

“All the students were excellent, the debates were well structured – thought out – the level of questioning from the audience was particularly impressive.” (Judge, 17th November)

“The students were brave.”  (Judge, 17th November)

Trophies were presented to those teams in first and second place (in each of the two independent streams), with all participants receiving a certificate of achievement. There were also awards nominated and presented by Student Ambassadors for the best individual participant and the most highly commended and commended individual contributions from the audience.

1st Place Stream 1: Humphry Davy School
1st Pace Stream 2: Bideford College
2nd Place Stream 1: Tamarside Community College
2nd Place Stream 2: West Exe Technology College

The other competing teams were: Sir John Hunt Community College; St. Lukes Science & Sport College; Penryn College; and Park Community School.


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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