06 Mar 2017: A New Chapter Begins

Debating Matters: A New Chapter Begins

Launching now, our refreshed approach will:
• Give students an even more challenging and memorable experience
• Further raise the level of student debate on critical contemporary issues
• Enhance Debating Matters’ unique emphasis on intellectual substance over style
• Provide a strong regional focus that enables young people throughout the UK to take part in the competition
• Provide each region with an intense one-day flagship event in an external venue featuring Britain’s most exciting young thinkers

From its inception in 2003, the competition has grown to become a genuinely country-wide contest, with the number of schools competing annually increasing tenfold. This evolution has allowed over 24,000 sixth formers and FE students to interact with more than 3,000 expert judges, debating almost 200 contemporary issues (with an accompanying number of specially commissioned, research-rich Topic Guides).

In autumn 2017, Debating Matters will evolve once more, taking the competition up a level. Simplifying the logistics of the competition has enabled us to now offer flagship events in 12 regions across the UK. These debate-packed one-day events will provide students with even better debating materials, a high-profile regional platform on which to debate, and an opportunity to meet and debate with a wider range of fellow students.

This new approach has been designed to match our fast-moving times. Knowledge, intellectual challenge and an open exchange of ideas are needed more than ever to challenge the echo chamber of complacency. We are now inviting schools, teachers, judges, sponsors and our extensive alumni network to become active partners in developing this enhanced, UK-wide programme of Debating Matters events.


For over 13 years, Debating Matters has championed a different approach to schools debating, one where substance is emphasised over style, ideas matter more than showy rhetoric and young people are taken seriously. Interaction, and a critical engagement with both the topics and one another, lie at the heart of the competition’s format and offer students a unique intellectual challenge.

Broadcaster Christopher Cook, a Debating Matters judge, has noted that “the debates are cunningly framed - they require research and abstract thought”. Indeed, students are required to conduct in-depth research using our highly acclaimed, bespoke Topic Guides to examine the merits of competing perspectives on a debate and to question their own viewpoints.

The role of the competition’s expert judges is one of our unique selling points. There is no false flattery in Debating Matters. Instead, through a dynamic interaction with a public audience and judging panels who interrogate and cross-examine debaters on their arguments, students are held to account, challenged to substantiate their case and encouraged to delve deeper into key contemporary questions. Students are applauded for their successes and constructively critiqued for their weaknesses. In the context of the new challenges facing society in 2018, it is particularly important now to cultivate independent thinkers.


The Academy of Ideas sees the seismic political changes of 2016 as both a challenge and a fantastic opportunity. Now, more than ever, there is a crying need to encourage young people to take debate seriously. In an era in which many are concerned about everything from fake news to political ‘echo chambers’, we are keen to encourage sixth-form debaters to think and read beyond simplistic, one-sided conclusions about difficult topics. Moreover, encouraging debate is a powerful way to challenge today’s fashionable and escalating free-speech controversies. Many young people – especially at universities – have become thin-skinned and easily offended when confronted with opposing opinions to their own. In a culture of bans and ‘you can’t say that’ no-platforming, Debating (really, really) Matters.


Having successfully developed extensive national coverage, the next phase of Debating Matters will be to foster a stronger regional and city focus. This aligns with the important new emphasis on development in the regions gathering pace in all areas of economic, political and public life. Ensuring that young people meet, interact and debate with their peers from diverse backgrounds, from across the length and breadth of their region and the UK, will be an important antidote to identity silos and self-reflecting bubbles.


For the academic year 2017-2018, we will launch standalone Debating Matters Championship competitions across the UK.

The new format will centre on regional championships, each with 12 schools competing. Each championship will take place on a single day and in a single, external venue, and will increase the number of students, teachers and judges that come together in one flagship event. These tournaments will act as a beacon to encourage debating in many more schools locally. We will encourage a collegiate and competitive atmosphere at each championship, creating a buzz by intellectually engaging each region’s most ambitious young debaters to discuss the most pressing social, scientific, political and cultural issues.

Through the organic growth of the competition into local areas, more parts of the country will be able to participate in Debating Matters over the next five years. Nick Hastie, Director of the MRC Human Genetics Unit and a Debating Matters judge, provides a hint as to why making Debating Matters grow deeper roots in more regions is so important: “The whole atmosphere of the debates is electric… These students are undoubtedly the leaders of the future.”


To find out how to to partner with us or host one of our Regional Championships, contact Bernie Whelan, Events coordinator


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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