TBSHS Students speak at Cambridge Union

Two teams compete in the British Parliamentary Debating Competition

Date published: Mon 10 Feb 2020   Author: HLH/ADF   Category: News   Share: Share on facebookShare on TwitterShare on MySpaceShare by Email


Two TBSHS teams travelled to the world-famous Cambridge Union Building for our first British Parliamentary debating competition of the year. In this format, which typically involves four rounds of debating, each with only 15 minutes’ preparation, all the teams debate the same motion at the same time. Four teams are allocated to each room and, when they have debated, are ranked from first to fourth, picking up 3, 2, 1 or 0 points respectively.

In the first debate I watched Connor Davies & Ollie Weight (Year 13) make their interschool debuts. Closing the case for the motion “This House Would Prevent the Media from Reporting the Private Lives of Public Figures”, both spoke impressively, displaying confidence and a good grasp of the issues. Ollie opened with some strong rebuttal of the Opposition’s case and went on to praise the French attitude of not caring if their politicians have affairs, so long as they run the country well.

Speaking last for the motion, Connor’s summary speech contained all the right elements, focussing on the central issues and demonstrating the superiority of his side’s arguments. Unfortunately, it also contained some new material, which is inadmissible in a summary. Nevertheless, the team gained a very pleasing second place. Meanwhile Year 11 students Will Worthy & Nabil Shah got off to an even better start, speaking first against the motion and winning their debate.

These successes meant that both teams were likely to face tough opponents in the next debate “This House Would Return Cultural Artefacts (e.g. the Elgin Marbles) to Their Countries of Origin” and so it proved. Nabil & Will, speaking second for the motion, found themselves in the Union chamber up against three teams of Sixth Formers from independent schools with strong debating traditions. Will made a good job of extending the Proposition case, being the first speaker to really consider the moral issues involved in a very well-structured speech. He also argued persuasively that implementing the motion would improve international relations.

Summing up, Nabil engaged well with his opponents’ arguments, identified the main points of clash and remembered to draw attention to the importance of Will’s contribution. An extremely eloquent team from the Perse were deserving winners, but TBSHS were perhaps a little unlucky to get only third place. Ollie & Connor faced the difficult task of opening for the Opposition and had to be content with fourth in their room.

Fortified by lunch, all our speakers were ready to tackle the motion “This House Would Criminalise the Payment of Ransoms”. Both teams were drawn to close the case for the Opposition. In a well-ordered speech Ollie drew on his research for a recent in-school debate about negotiating with terrorists to argue vehemently that paying ransoms is a successful tactic as it saves lives, permits negotiations with kidnappers and thus allows the authorities to gain knowledge of their methods.

Speaking last, Connor backed up Ollie’s arguments but got rather bogged down in his rebuttal of the other side’s points about the advisability of paying ransoms, but finished his speech strongly. Unfortunately neither of our speakers had paid sufficient attention to the word “criminalise” in the motion, a fault that allowed an otherwise inferior team to beat them into third place. Nabil & Will were disappointed to achieve the same ranking in their room.

In the final debate of the day, both our teams finally got the chance to speak first in their respective rooms, proposing that “This House Would Reintroduce National Service”. Back in the Chamber Nabil laid out three clear arguments for a compulsory two-year spell after secondary education to be spent in the armed forces, helping out in hospitals or in industries such as construction, arguing that this would be beneficial to the individuals as well as the country as a whole.  

Replying to Opposition arguments about the need for training to carry out many of these roles, Will pointed out that there are many unskilled jobs in the areas Nabil had suggested and referred to the strengthening of national identity. I was pleased to note that he acted on the advice given earlier in the day and explained why his arguments were important. I was disappointed, however, by the fact that neither of our speakers mentioned the idea of community service in the form of litter picking, visiting the lonely etc. Fortunately, the teams in the second half of the debate contributed very little to the debate and Will & Nabil gained another first place. Connor & Ollie also ended the day on a high, gaining their first victory in TBSHS colours.

When the overall results were announced we found that Nabil & Will finished in a highly creditable 12th place, making them the highest-placed team at the event from a state school, while Ollie and Connor came 22nd - a very pleasing result in their first competition. All the students involved were keen to take advice from judges on board, interacted very well with other competitors and were pleasure to be with. Congratulations and many thanks to them for giving up their time to represent the school.