Debating Matters Beyond Bars
The Academy of Ideas Debating Matters Competition is delighted to be working in partnership with G4S, on ‘Debating Matters Beyond Bars’.
Following the pilot in 2016, Debating Matters Beyond Bars has seen our challenging schools debating competition format returning to HMP Birmingham. Teams of offenders of all ages will engage each other in debate on a series of contemporary social, political, biomedical and cultural debates, encouraging them to think about the world around them. In the words of Academy of Ideas Director, Claire Fox, “This project is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate that debate can flourish in unexpected places and that no idea should be beyond critical discussion or contest.”
The prison teams will be supported by Debating Matters with on-site debate training days, giving an overview not just of the competition format but also of the importance of debate more broadly. The prison debaters will also receive a series of specially updated Topic Guides, the competition’s acclaimed resources, which set the contemporary scene in which the topical issues they will discuss are taking place. Each debate will be judged, as always, by a panel of three invited guests, from all walks of life and professional backgrounds, who will cross-examine the prisoners on what they’re arguing.
You can see what two of our judges thought about the Debating Matters Beyond Bars pilot in 2016:
A prison project that aims to unlock the potential of inmates - Miranda Green
In a Birmingham jail, I discovered the point of Michael Gove - Hugo Rifkind
The Debating Matters Beyond Bars 2017 debates will be held over two separate days in August and September 2017, and culminate in a grand finale between the two teams who win through to the final debate. As part of the final day, a ‘Question Time’-style debate will be staged, chaired by director of the Academy of Ideas, Claire Fox, with a panel of special guests, and an audience of prisoners, family members, HMP Birmingham staff and guests.
Debating Matters Beyond Bars 2017 Programmes
Day of Debate, 31 August
Grand Final, 2 October
Debating Matters Beyond Bars 2016 Programmes
Day of Debate, 6 September
Grand Final, 15 September
In partnership with
For further information about this partnership or you are interested in coming along to one of our Beyond Bars events, contact Adam Rawcliffe
Future of Engineering Debates
In partnership with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Debating Matters staged three events across the UK designed to engage tomorrow’s citizens in considering the role engineering will play in an ever-developing and constantly changing society.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers aims to improve the world through engineering by inspiring the next generation. By exploring the views of students as part of a day of themed competitive debate, the next generation became part of a wider discussion initiated by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’s Big Ideas . The initiative looks at the future of engineering and education, as well as technologies and their relationship with society.
Three events were staged across the UK home nations. Links to each country’s programmes are below:
Future of Engineering: Wales
Future of Engineering: Scotland
Wednesday 14 December, School of Engineering, University of Glasgow
We have produced four bespoke Topic Guides for the event, looking at four broad social themes - healthcare, transport and manufacturing, energy and environment, education. Click on the images below to access:
For further information about this partnership, or if you are interested in developing a similar one, contact Adam Rawcliffe
Debating Matters/University of East London: EU Referendum Debate
In partnership with the University of East London and Nottingham Trent University, Debating Matters staged a special debate on the UK’s European Union Referendum.
As part of The UK in a Changing Europe initiative, funded by the Economic & Social Research Council, Debating Matters worked with the University of East London (UEL) and Nottingham Trent University (NTU) to produce this timely one-off event.
A Debating Matters school argued against a school team coordinated by UEL, on whether the UK should withdraw from the European Union. Using a specially updated Topic Guide on the issue, the sixth formers were asked to consider some of the key issues put forward by both the Brexit and Remain camps in the debate, and of course had to make a convincing case for their side of the argument!
The UK Should Leave The EU
For: Queens’ School, Bushey
Against: Havering College
Chair: Claire Fox
Judges: Dolan Cummings, Anne Fergusson & Dr Tim Hall
Thursday 16 June
University of East London Stratford
University Square Stratford
London E15 1NF
Havering College won the competition, foreshadowing the real outcome for the referendum. Perhaps proponents of Brexit took inspiration from their speeches in their own campaigning?
In partnership with
For more information about the event contact Nadia Butt
Debating Matters Berlin
In partnership with Freiblickinstitut e.V. the Academy of Ideas Debating Matters Competition made a spectacular return to Germany for Debating Matters Berlin 2017.
Debating Matters Berlin was hosted by venue partner BiTS Hochschule, and eight schools from across the city fiercely competed for the title of ‘Champions 2017’. Eventually, the Nelson Mandela school debated their way to victory over their impressive opponents.
The competition will make another fiery return on 28th February 2018 in the fight to find the 2018 Champions.
Four new Topic Guides for the event will be published here soon.
Bpas/Debating Matters: Reproductive Health - Decisions & Dilemmas
A new Debating Matters project, in partnership with the the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), to encourage students to consider moral and ethical dilemmas around reproductive health
Two invitation only events for schools, staged at Birmingham Law School and Brighton and Sussex Medical School, our unique debate format, together with expert witness speakers, will allow young people to think about these issues in a reflective and more philosophical way than they might be able to either within the school curriculum, or as part of the broader, competitive Debating Matters Competition.
Our Birmingham event in 2015 was hosted and supported by the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research at Birmingham University.
Our second project event will be held on 8 March at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. See a full programme and access the the bespoke Topic Guides below.
Pregnancy and Lifestyle
If you school would be interested in taking part, contact Justine Brian.
East London Science School Day of Debate
A one-off Debating Matters special project, in partnership with the East London Science School, to get the school’s Year 7 and Year 8 pupils discussing ethical and social issues around some key bio-medical themes.
Bio-medical debates have always been a core part of the competition’s content. In this one-day event, which took place on Monday 18 May, we worked with East London Science School teachers, invited guest speakers and competition alumni to get the young debaters thinking about bio-medical debates that pervade everyday life, but which they hadn’t necessarily have considered before. With a series of expert lectures in the morning, the issues at hand were then tackled in a school-wide set of competitive debates, challenging the pupils to get to grips quickly with the core issues, think on their feet, and present their ideas and arguments to their peers!
The questions they considered were:
Is a person’s intelligence is determined by their genes?
Should fat people be allowed operations?
Is animal experimentation unnecessary
Should we radically extend the human lifespan?
Photos from the day can be found here:
Debating Matters Israel
The Academy of Ideas and our partners, the Anglo-Israel Association, offer Jewish, Arab and International schools in Israel the opportunity to participate in Debating Matters, a unique approach to competitive schools debating in English.
On 13th April, Debating Matters Israel returned in partnership with the Anglo-Israel Association to expand our work involving 12 schools. Hosted at the National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, many more schools, judges and guests joined the competition in our audience.
Judged by professionals from a wide range of backgrounds and areas of expertise, students had the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of some of the big questions facing society and to debate them openly. With a strong culture of informal debate, and tradition of lively public discussion, Israel offers a great foundation for Debating Matters’ engaging, conversational format.
Photos from the exciting day of debate can be found here:
The 2015 Showcase
Invited by the UK’s Ambassador, Debating Matters developed Israel’s first free to enter, English speaking debating tournament for 16-18 year olds working with a range of partners including the Israeli Ministry of Education’s English Inspectorate, Kadima Mada, The Abraham Foundation, TeachFirst Israel, Tel Aviv University and media partners like Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post and TV channel, 5 sport.
“Finding a way to engage on serious ideas is something incredibly important .... debating gives you something very special. In Israel, debating has a particular place as arguing is the national sport here!”
Matthew Gould, former UK Ambassador to Israel
Following a reception at the UK Ambassador’s Residence in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv in May 2016, 6 Israeli Schools and many more guests came together at Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies Capsule Building for an in-depth day of debate.
As well as providing Israel’s first opportunity to use Debating Matters’ unique format, we also produced several Israel-specific debate Topic Guide resources in English for foreign language students to use for research covering: whether Animal Experimentation can ever be justified, if Megacities are bad for the Developing World, if Social Media is rejuvenating political protest and if Space Exploration is a waste of time and money.
My students and I had an unforgettable experience. We have learnt a great deal and the students were truly ecstatic. They keep on talking about the event with starry eyes since this is something we have never done before and it was so much more than we expected. I seriously believe this project to be truly educating, building confidence and connecting people.”
Trixie Mass, Teacher, Ankori
To get involved in the competition as a competitor or as a guest at our upcoming events, please email Joel Cohen
Debating Matters/Global Uncertainties Day of Debate
A day of debate, in partnership with the Economic & Social Research Council’s Global Uncertainties programme.
Thursday 1 May 2014
Beckfoot School, Bingley
10:00 Coffee & Registration
10:40 Introductory Global Uncertainites Lecture
by Kim Knott, Professor of Religious and Secular Studies, and Global Uncertainties Leadership Fellow, Lancaster University
11:00-12:15 ‘Weathering the Twitter storm: the pros and cons of social media’
Whether it’s for charity fundraising or news coverage of major world events in the Ukraine and Arab Spring, social media has changed how we communicate. Having an online presence is now seen as so normal that Popes and Prime Ministers have a Twitter account. Social media is increasingly seen as a vital tool in social activism, helping to build protest movements and encourage public debate on issues ranging from government welfare cuts and libel reform to challenging instances of Everyday Sexism, racism and homophobia.
But for every positive example of online ‘clicktivism’, there are numerous examples of the darker side of blogs and Twitter. ‘Cyber bullying’ and trolling is increasingly seen as a problem: two people were jailed earlier this year for sending abusive messages to UK politician Stella Creasey and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. Suzie Hayman, of Bullying UK, states that: “Bullies hide behind the anonymity of the internet and they should not be able to do so. You can’t be anonymous if you say something hurtful in the office or the schoolyard and people need to learn you can’t be anonymous on the internet either.”
Last year the Guardian newspaper took the unusual step of removing an article by well-known journalist Julie Burchill from its website following an online argument over its perceived offensiveness. Jokes and remarks made online have seen some people lose their jobs and even end up in prison. Some commentators argue that these instances show that social media promotes a superficial view of politics that can have terrible consequences.
Dr Cristina Archetti, Senior Lecturer, politics and media, University of Salford; author of ‘Understanding Terrorism in the Age of Global Media’
Dr Matthew Francis, Senior Research Associate on RCUK Global Uncertainties: Ideology, Decision-making and Uncertainty project
Tom Slater, assistant editor, spiked
Chaired by Dave Bowden, editorial, press and special projects manager, Academy of Ideas
13:15-14:15 ‘Why is debate important? Plus a short history of free speech in England
presented by Dave Bowden, editorial, press and special projects manager, Academy of Ideas
with responses from:
Paul Thomas of the Leeds Salon
Chris Toole, Debating Coordinator, Beckfoot School
14:30-15:50 Debating Matters showcase debate
Kim Knott, Professor of Religious and Secular Studies, and Global Uncertainties Leadership Fellow, Lancaster University
Ashley Mallet, Solicitor & DM Alumnus
Paul Thomas, Co-organiser, Leeds Salon
15:50-16:05 Closing remarks
STV/Debating Matters: The Referendum School Debate
Debating Matters teamed up with STV to give secondary school pupils across Scotland the opportunity to debate the big issues in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
This unique competition, using the challenging Debating Matters format, and held in partnership with STV, gave secondary five and six pupils from all 32 Scottish local authorities - many of whom will have the opportunity to vote in the forthcoming referendum - the chance to research and discuss issues which will affect the future of Scotland. STV provided a platform for debate and covered the competition on air and online and Debating Matters produced special editions of our acclaimed Topic Guides on the motions for debate.
Six Topic Guides were produced for the STV Debating Referendum Schools Debate, including one of the referendum question itself, and these are freely available for everyone to access:
Currency: “An independent Scotland needs an independent currency”
Monarchy: “Scotland should have an elected head of state”
Nationalism: “Nationalism is an idea that has no place in the 21st century”
NATO: “An independent Scotland should be a member of NATO”
Small Nations: “Scotland has more in common with other small nations than with its neighbour England”
The Referendum Question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
See the original launch video below:
And access the dedicated STV project website below:
Debating Matters Global Development Debates
Tuesday 7 February 2012, Unilever House, London
At a time of great anxiety and confusion about the future direction of the world, there are important debates to be had about how to improve our lives – from how to employ science and technology to best effect, to different models of economic growth. In the midst of economic turmoil for many countries, rapid growth for some and slow or even negative growth for others, the seventh billionth person joined the human population. Some have celebrated the scientific and social advances that have enabled the human race to thrive on its ingenuity and capacity for innovation, whilst others are concerned about the destructive aspects of humanity in relation to the depletion of natural resources and pollution that threatens the sustainability of existence as our population continues to grow.
Whilst economic growth in countries such as Brazil, India, China and Russia has brought a welcome improvement in living standard for many, and lifted millions out of poverty, the blight of poverty remains for billions, including those living side by side with individuals enjoying the fruits of a more middle class existence in developing countries. Whilst Western economies struggle with one of the most severe economic crises since the 1930s, it remains the case that living standards and life expectancy have improved immeasurably in that time. But which way now? Many have questioned the sustainability of the Western economic model, raising questions about short-termism, consumerism, a narrow pursuit of profit to please the markets, and the wisdom of measuring prosperity in terms of GDP. On the other hand, the drive for growth and the emphasis on innovation and renewal required to achieve it, deliver important benefits for human existence. The evidence and arguments are complex, contradictory and difficult – but surely need to be worked through and debated vigorously.
The Academy of Ideas and Unilever Debating Matters Global Development Debates will provide six schools with the opportunity to do just that.
Six teams from schools from London and the Home Counties will debate the following motions:
Supermarkets are bad for local communities
Governments should stop supporting the biofuels industry
Social media is rejuvenating political protest
Population growth and rising living standards are unsustainable
Debating Matters & Newcastle University Changing Age event
The Debating Matters Changing Age event, in partnership with Newcastle University, took place on Thursday 29 April 2010 at the King’s Road Centre, Newcastle University. The day saw eight schools from across the North East will come together to consider the medical, moral and social issues facing society’s ageing population.
Newcastle University’s ‘Changing Age’ programme is a year-long series of events and activities organised by the university, which houses the prestigious Institute for Ageing & Health (IAH). The IAH brings together clinical, social and computer scientists, engineers, and researchers in a variety of other fields, to address the increasingly important issues of how and why we age, the treatment of associated disease and disability, and the support of through-life health, well-being and independence. As well as the programme celebrating Newcastle University’s achievements in ageing-related research over the past 40 years, it will also be a platform for contemporary debate and discussion on age related issues.
As well as a series of Debating Matters debates, the day began with a fantastic ‘In Conversation’ lecture, given by Professor Tom Kirkwood, Director of the Institute of Ageing & Health, who celebrated the fact that we are all living longer than ever before, in much better health, and considered what the future of ageing might look like; and a ‘Question Time’ style panel of eminent commentators and scientists where students can continue to explore the ideas and issues with a distinguished guest panel.
In a series of Debating Matters debates, students from across the North East considered the issues around older mums and radically extending the human lifespan. The day started with a fascinating opening speech from Prof Tom Kirkwood of the Institute for Ageing and Health who celebrated the fact that we are all living longer than ever before, in much better health, and considered what the future of ageing might look like. Prof Kirkwood was then engaged in an exchange of ideas with Dr Iain Brassington, bioethicist at the University of Manchester and Dr Kevin Yuill, a historian from the University of Sunderland, as well as some pertinent questions from the student audience. The day finished with a ‘Question Time’ style panel of eminent speakers including Dr Jack Watters from Pfizer; Anne Johnstone of The Herald; Prof Jim Edwardson of the IAH; and Sean O’Connor, co-adapter of the acclaimed ‘Juliet & Her Romeo’ at the Bristol Old Vic, who fielded a range of questions on ageing from the young and engaged audience.
Prof Tom Kirkwood, Director of the Institute for Ageing and Health, said the event was:
“A fantastic day…I was really impressed with the way school students engaged with some really challenging questions for contemporary society. I think the debate format allows the students to engage with the discussion in a really creative and intelligent way.”
And as an example of the lively and engaged student audience, Annie Cocoran of Gosforth High School commented that:
“(it was) really enjoyable…particularly the interesting mix of older and younger people discussing a really important social issue.”
We would like to thank Newcastle University for their partnership in this project, and for helping us create a unique event for schools in the North East.
Debating Matters & RCUK Global Uncertainties Schools Network
The Global Uncertainties School Network has now completed its programme of events held in conjunction with six schools and colleges from around the country. The final event, held at Blackburn College on 30 April, was the exciting culmination of a fast-moving and unique project.
Debating Matters has been delighted by the enthusiasm with which both students and speakers have approached their participation in this project. Writing several weeks after his appearance as a panellist for the Sheffield Global Uncertainties events, journalist Bill Carmichael wrote a very interesting piece for his weekly column for the Yorkshire Post. He said that initially he hadn’t held out great hope for a lively discussion and that instead his expectation was:
“to be asked a few desultory questions by a couple of dozen bored sixth formers who had been dragooned into attending… I couldn’t have been more wrong. The venue – a large lecture theatre in Sheffield – was packed with school pupils, teachers, students, political activists and even a few members of the public. They were engaged, enthusiastic and well-informed and determined to give the members of the panel the grilling of our lives… Watching the General Election debate over recent weeks, I was struck by the contrast. Tough questions – most notably on the perilous state of the economy – have been ducked throughout.”
The Global Uncertainties School network has been an exciting project for the Debating Matters team. Supported by Research Council UK’s Global Uncertainties Programme, the project has drawn on the excellent work of some of the Programmes’ fellows, who have not only contributed to the network’s resources but have also taken part as speakers and offered insightful and thoughtful reflections on the wide-ranging themes of the programme. In addition to Global Uncertainties fellows who took part at each of these events, the school network has benefited from the input of a diverse and impressive range of contributors, whose input as speakers and judges have benefited students enormously – Debating Matters would like to offer all of them our heartfelt thanks for helping to make all 12 of these events such a success.
The Debating Matters team would like to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of all of the teachers and schools who generously hosted the Global Uncertainties School events and to thank them for all of the work that went on behind the scenes to make these events happen- David Perks at Graveney School in Tooting, Owen Tiplady at Redland Green School in Bristol, Paul Moore-Bridger at Silverdale School in Sheffield, Kevin Rooney at Queens’ School in Bushey, Richard Swan at Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone and David Jones at Blackburn College.
Finally, we would like to thank RCUK’s Global Uncertainties Programme for their partnership in this project, and for helping us to create unique events for schools across the country.
Global Uncertainties in the press:
‘Leading thinkers debate at Graveney School in Tooting’
Surrey Comet March 4 2010
‘Opinions erupt at Question Time-style debate hosted by Queens’ School in Bushey’
Watford Observer March 16 2010
‘Leading thinkers speak at Harvey Grammar School’s evening of public debate’
Hawkinge Gazette March 31 2010
‘Amazing day of philosophical debate’
Bristol Evening Post April 28 2010
Debating Matters UK
Debating Matters UK debates debates debates. In the UK.
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.
Debating Matters India
India, with its strong tradition of debate and extensive schools debating scene, has been a wonderful country to introduce the Debating Matters ethos and approach to over the past six years. Vignesh Gundesha, DM India alumnus, says of the competition:
“The most important thing that sets Debating Matters apart is that it allows you to question ideas. Your prepared speeches make up a small fraction of the actual debates, after which you’re left to be grilled not only by the opposition but the judges and the audience. You’re asked to fend for your ideas, beliefs, statements, and the way you think and reason is challenged and questioned.”
The competition was supported by the Wellcome Trust.
This sixth year of the competition is also Debating Matters India’s last. For funding and organisational reasons there are currently no plans for a DM India competition in 2014. But DM India continues to inspire beyond the annual competition organised by the British Council Indial and the Academy of Ideas - in Chennai there is already a hugely successful competition, The Bait, which was initiated by alumni of Debating Matters, and now involves dozens of schools in several cities in addition to competition alumni now at university or starting professional life, who have been inspired to organise debates of their own. The Debating Matters India team would like to thank everyone who has been involved over the six years for their invaluable contribution to the competition. Read the full story here.
Congratulations to the champions of Debating Matters India Year 6: PSBB Senior Secondary School, KK Nagar, Chennai!
PSBB Senior Secondary School, KK Nagar, Chennai were crowned the champions of Debating Matters India Year 6 after a series of hard fought debates which took place at the Head Office of the British Council India in Delhi on 29th and 30th November 2013.
Debates were had over intellectual property and India’s need for cheap generic drugs, as well as a debate on media regulation that drew parallels with the UK debate following the Leveson inquiry. Semi-final debates were had on fertility tourism, and the standing and importance of secularism in modern-day India. The event culminated in a nail-biting final between Convent of Jesus and Mary, Delhi and PSBB Sr. Sec School KK Nagar on whether India should abolish the death penalty. The judging panel for the final - Dr Shrishendu Mukherjee of the Wellcome Trust’s India Initiative; Dr Giti Chandra, Associate professor of English at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi; and the leading Indian economist Dr Amir Ullah Khan - eventually awarded the victory to PSBB from Chennai.
Read the full story of this years DM India National Final!
DM India National Final, Delhi 2012
2009/10 DM India National Final video
2008/09 DM India National Final video
Visit the British Council’s Debating Matters India competition website.