Case Study: Glasgow Friendlies
Two of the competition’s alumni, Michael Weir, studying law at the University of Glasgow, and Adam Rawcliffe, a history student at St. Andrews, have been leading the large cohort of alumni based in Scotland. They organised the first set of ‘Glasgow Friendlies’.
We spoke to Mike to find out how they initiated this project, and made it such a successful experiment.
“Of the schools I contacted last last year, I had four positive responses from teachers. We spoke to Hilary McGavigan, of Notre Dame High School in Glasgow who leads the schools Debating Matters team and she was happy to host the Glasgow Friendlies. Given Hilary and Notre Dame’s excellent hosting of Debating Matters, and the central location, I was keen to base the debates there. We set three possible dates which I circulated to other schools. Douglas Academy and Bearsden Academy could attend but sadly Wellington School had other debating commitments and so couldn’t take part. With three schools, we chose to run a three debate, round-robin system, with each school debating the others. I’d say that in terms of dealing with schools and the students it all went fairly smoothly.
Mike Weir chairing at the Scotland & Northern Ireland Final, March 2013
We were pleased that, in line with what I’d asked, the students who competed in the debates were all new to the competition, and all seemed to enjoy the Debating Matters format.
We’d organised judges easily and everything seemed ready to go. Sadly some of those we’d signed up to judge had to withdraw a few days before. This was the first time we’d tried to bring schools and judges together on one night, so I think this is a lesson for next time - have contingency plans and ideally have four or five judges for flexibility (as the main competition does) rather than just the three we felt we needed. I deliberately didn’t invite regular Debating Matters judges based in Glasgow, and instead chose to rely on competition alumni and people Adam and I know through university debating. This was partly to make the night more relaxed but also to introduce some new people to the competition.”
“By far the best debate of the night was on trial by jury. Adam chaired the debate (and also spilt coffee over everything) with a university colleague Howard and myself judging. Both sides gave strong but quite different performances, Notre Dame being calm and cool but very genuine with a lot of thinking on their feet and Douglas being very impassioned, thoroughly researched and combative. Douglas ultimately won the debate, but it was genuinely very close, not least because they responded slightly better to some tough questioning and because we felt Notre Dame went on the defensive and tried to weather the attack of Douglas, instead of trying to attack their proposals.
The second debate on whether happiness is the business of government was rightly described by Howard as ‘wishy-washy’, and the students had a slightly difficult time of pinning down some key concepts around ‘happiness’. I was conscious when I chose this topic that this could happen, but thought it would be interesting to try in a friendly round. I chaired this debate with Adam moving to the judges table. Douglas Academy won again with some strong and better defined arguments and concepts whereas the Bearsden Academy team had slightly confused definitions and were not completely thought-through arguments.
Adam Rawcliffe chairing at the Scotland & Northern Ireland Final, March 2013
The final debate of the night, on government support for the biofuels industry. I chaired this debate between Notre Dame and Bearsden. The Notre Dame girls let nerves get the better of them slightly in the last debate but rallied to make some good, if straightforward arguments. They tended to just repeat the same basic argument. Adam was frustrated and so some frank feedback was given. Bearsden gave a decent performance but didn’t have to stretch too much”.
“I think what Adam and I achieved is really encouraging, and all three teachers were pleased with the night and said that they’d be keen for similar events in the future. Bearsden Academy asked us to repeat the event in early September, and they have schools new to Debating Matters who they think they could get along as opposing teams. Which I think is all sounds promising. Hilary has also asked us to come to Notre Dame’s debate club to offer tips and advice.”
The Debating Matters team congratulate Adam and Mike on this great initiative.
We’d like to hear of other initiatives, such as Adam and Mike’s - to encourage other schools to get debating. Email Justine Brian.