Case Study: Hutton Church of England Grammar School, Preston

Hutton Church of England Grammar School is specialist Mathematics and Computing comprehensive boys’ school with a co-educational sixth form.

Hutton Grammar were new to Debating Matters in the 2009/10 competition, and went straight to the top, winning the Debating Matters national Final 2010. We asked Claire Mates, Subject Leader for English, to tell us about their dramatic and inspirational first year in the competition.

“I may have appeared lost for words at the announcement of our victory at the National Final; a little stunned perhaps.  It now still seems hardly believable: it was never my intention to begin the debating society at Hutton…

From left to right in picture above: John Stephenson, Adam Rawcliffe, Sam Winter, teacher Claire Mates, Patrice Ellis, David Riley, Sarah Dockerill

“In my first year at the school (2007) I was approached by a small group of students in my AS class who were interested in expanding their CVs with some public speaking experience. We investigated local Rotary competitions and the range of national debating competitions. As is often the case at the school, the hint of a competition meant I was being stopped in corridors by students I had never met before asking if they could become involved. The momentum was building. 

A few tentative posters were placed in registers and on common room walls inviting interested parties to our first official meeting of the Hutton Grammar Debating Society. I approached the school library on our first Thursday lunchtime expecting to have to throw out the rowdy lower school pupils I could hear through the door, and was taken aback to open the door and meet a bustling throng of sixth formers and year eleven students already visibly excited about the prospect of a good argument – what had I got myself into? As Subject Leader for English I suspected that I didn’t have the time to commit to the Debating Society long-term, but very soon realised that the kind of students who were interested were not the sort who needed a great deal of organising, and, more importantly, that these meetings were a pleasure - a highlight of my week.  Of course, over time the numbers dwindled as those who had come to swell their CV’s (including, ironically, the original deposition of three) realised it wasn’t for them and I was left with a core group of disparate students united by the fact that they all felt that 45 minutes of debate on a Thursday lunchtime about matters bigger than themselves and their studies was time well spent. 

Each year saw some stalwarts leave for university but a rolling programme fell into place where the remaining members helped to recruit and inspire newcomers. And so we exist: each Thursday we meet, often with an agenda set the week before, sometimes with one person burning to talk about an issue which has affected them on a personal level and sometimes we’re all just too tired and it’s ok to spend the time arguing about the best type of cheese.

The Debating Matters Competition was first mentioned to me by a teacher at a neighbouring school, and his enthusiasm for the format was evident - I immediately applied for a place. We were too late for that academic year as the competition was full, but the National Coordinator, Justine Brian, got in touch when it was time for the following year’s competition (2009/10) and we entered.

Being a part of the Debating Matters Competition has given our group a focus; we never dreamed we would progress as far as we did. I was dumbstruck when we won. It was less than four years ago that I was initially approached, and there I was, seeing our students lifting the winners’ trophy. How had we got to this point?

Winning makes you happy…the Hutton team in their winners hoodies

But having had chance to reflect, perhaps it isn’t quite so surprising. In Debating Matters we found a competition that holds the same ethos as our small band: that conviction and substance should win over style every time. I have the privilege of working with students who care about a world beyond themselves and who want to grapple with complex issues. For as long as that remains the case I shall be in the library every Thursday lunchtime.” 

Since Claire gave us this interview she’s let us know that that initial small team who took part in Debating Matters have, in her words “spawned a monster and we have a very lively in-school debating competition running now!”.

What Hutton Grammar do:

  • Run a debate club for sixth formers and Year 11 students
  • Always meet once a week, on a Thursday lunchtime
  • Discuss a range of issues, from the serious to the trivial
  • Win the Debating Matters Competition 2009/10!


Tell us about debating at your school - email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Have you been inspired to start a debate club at your school as a result of these examples? If so, please let us know!


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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