Case Study: Kent Debate League


Two schools from Kent, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar and Barton Court Grammar, have been involved with Debating Matters since its formation as a national competition ten years ago. Here, we asked teacher Tom Finn-Kelcey to tell us about a fantastic new initiative he and other teachers have just established - the Kent Debate League.

Debating has been a big feature of the extra-curricular life of both Queen Elizabeth’s and Barton Court since they first took part in Debating Matters ten years ago, with various in-school events taking place at each.

But both schools faced an annual difficulty, familiar to many schools who take part in Debating Matters - what happens if you are knocked out of the competition at an early stage? How can you keep the focus on debating going throughout the school year? The answer came in the form of the Kent Debate League. Queen Elizabeth teacher Tom Finn-Kelcey, and Nick Hayes from Barton Court, got together and formed a local debating league. Five local schools participated: Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Faversham; Fulston Manor School, Sittingbourne; and Simon Langton Girls Grammar School, Simon Langton Boys Grammar School and Barton Court Grammar School, all from Canterbury. There was a sense of local rivalry and because of this local fixtures could be frequent and held after school with each school holding a round of debates.

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The initial idea was that once a month during the autumn term the schools would get together for an evening, and watch two debates between the schools. Each event was hosted by a different school so that other students, teachers and parents from each of them had a chance to watch and take part. Each event consisted of two debates, with topics taken from the Debating Matters Topic Guide resources. The schools contacted local people to be debate judges, and found ready and willing support from local groups including universities, churches, businesses and other members of the community.

The evenings were an unmitigated success, with a very high standard of debate from all, and a definite and exciting edge of rivalry between the schools. All teams won debates at various stages, even those new to debating and the Debating Matters format, and everyone at the five schools is now looking forward to re-commencing the competition next autumn.

Below, some of the students tell us about their experience of the Kent debate League.

Harry Johnson, of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, say of the league:

“As a new arrival to the Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, the Kent league has been my first experience of debating and my first encounter with Debating Matters. With its balance of friendly competitiveness and supporting array of judges, teachers and competitors the competition was exciting, in many cases tense, but always giving me something to take away- whether that be a redefined approach to prisoners voting or tips on how to improve my presentation.

Many were new to the competition yet we soon found ourselves learning from each other and becoming involved wherever possible- making each session of Audience Questions lively and crowded. The topics were well chosen and as a result the content of the debates has, for me, gone much further. The competition has made me focused, helping me to form opinions on a vast range of topical debates, before giving me the opportunity to voice these opinions in a structured and adult way. The debates also held relevance to my A-level studies, increasing my wider understanding of several of the politics modules and providing evidence for many economic essays.

The league became something for us to focus our Wednesday afternoon enrichment sessions around, with everyone becoming involved to give us the greatest chance of success.  The competition has given me both new friends and rivals and I am keenly awaiting new opportunities for me to reattempt a victory.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the judges and teachers who worked hard to bring this league together and would like to encourage this kind of small and local league to every school interested. With a handful of local schools, enthusiastic sixth-form students and lots of sandwiches a league of this kind would bring a lot to those involved for very little.”

Ellie Knight, Student from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, continues:

“Having heard about debating throughout my time at Queen Elizabeth’s I began attending Wednesday afternoon sessions at the beginning of this year and very quickly my interest in the debates grew. After a few weeks I had my first debate and after winning became even more eager, I attended the Kent Debate League watching our local schools battle fiercely and developed strong opinions on each debate. The competition was becoming tense and there was a keen interest from many people to get on the team. Having only done two previous debates I was surprised and excited to be debating against Langton Boys (also very, very nervous).

After weeks of preparation and hours of research the day arrived; it was one of the scariest and most thrilling moments of my life. To begin with I was so nervous I couldn’t think properly, but as the debate developed I relaxed and became my argumentative self. It was a close fought debate which we narrowly won, I know I did not perform to my best ability but debating at this level has given me confidence, I no longer fear speaking in front of so many people and have much more confidence in myself and would relish the opportunity to take part again.

I found the competition was a fantastic way of getting to know people from the other schools, good relations between the participating schools developed and interacting with the rivals over tea and biscuits before the debates was always fun. I feel that the League is a great opportunity to debate at a higher level, it has caused me to develop an interest, and in many cases, strong opinions over many topics which are not only relevant to my A-level subjects but also highly important topics which I feel everyone should know about. I hope the competition runs again next year and look forward to QE reclaiming our title!”

To see what the Kent Debate League’s inaugural fixtures looked like, and how other schools might do something similar, take a look at their programme below:


Tell us about debating at your school - email Justine Brian. Have you been inspired to start a debate club 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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