One of the central tenets of the Debating Matters Competition is that young people are intelligent and robust enough to have their ideas held up to critical scrutiny; indeed, it is only through this kind of interaction that students are able to develop their ideas. Debating Matters judges are encouraged to be bold and challenging with students, offering praise and criticism where it is due.
Unlike other schools debating competitions Debating Matters does not operate on a points system. The decision as to who has won a debate is not prescriptive, but should rest on which team has made the most convincing argument. Because Debating Matters places a premium on the substance and content of an argument, we dispense with procedural formalities which place undue emphasis on style. This is not to say that delivery and style are irrelevant or should not be taken in to account, but that judges are asked to take particular note of strong research, a well-cohered argument, a serious engagement with the issues being discussed and a strong sense of the social, political and cultural context in which the real world debate is taking place.
There are no specific criteria for becoming a Debating Matters judge – some have extensive experience of judging debating competitions but most do not. What all our judges do have in common is an interest in engaging young people in debate and discussion about contemporary issues and a willingness to provide them with frank and honest feedback about their performances. From the local Qualifying Round stage through to the Regional and National Finals, we are keen to involve new judges in the competition, and are of course very grateful to those who have already contributed to the success of the competition.
“The intensity and intelligence of the speakers was a real delight. The enthusiasm and passion that they demonstrated shows that we can all benefit from grown-up debate.”
Lawson Muncaster, Managing Director, City AM (Judge)
“Having honest, critical feedback is invaluable for students, but sadly it happens less and less these days. Debating Matters redresses the balance, giving debaters an insight in to how they might improve and develop intellectually.”
Hayley Viser, Teacher from The Chase High School, Malvern
Why Debating Matters
One of the key innovations of the Debating Matters competition, and what sets it apart from other, more traditional styles of debating, is the very important interaction between debaters and judges which forms part of the structure of our debates, in the form of ‘Judges’ Questions’ and ‘Judges Feedback’.
It is now increasingly unusual for adults and young people to engage in serious and unrestricted discussion with one another, but the experience of Debating Matters has proven that this interaction can be hugely beneficial, both for the students who take part in the competition as debaters and the adults who take part as judges and audience members. Time and again one of the features of the competition students and teachers comment positively on is the role of the judges in questioning debaters and putting them under pressure to justify and improve their arguments. As one student remarked:
“Having an avid adult audience to listen to your ideas is really quite a rarity. Debating Matters is an amazing opportunity to change adult perceptions of young people and to challenge and supersede yourself”
But this interaction is also something that is valued by the community of judges of the competition has built up since its inception. The academics, business leaders, journalists, scientists, novelists and artists that make up this group have often suggested that the competition has changed their perception of young people, challenging the images apathetic teenagers that frequently appear in the press. Judge Anne Johnstone, leader writer for the Scottish broadsheet, the Herald, said of the competition:
“I always leave Debating Matters skipping. It is so uplifting being around young people who are so excited and inquisitive about the world, and yet so well informed. Spending a day at Debating Matters leaves me feeling incredibly optimistic about our future”