Durham Johnston Comprehensive School have won the 2009 National Final of the Institute of Ideas and Pfizer Debating Matters Competition, which took place over three days at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on 3-5 July.
Winning all three of their debates across the weekend, the team impressed judges with their sound research and persuasive arguments. Speaking after a debate in which Durham Johnston starred, Nicholas Hytner, Director of the National Theatre, said of the teams:
‘It was very inspiring to see 17-18 year olds engaging deeply and thoughtfully in these issues with one another. I think it is essential for young people to think clearly and logically and the Debating Matters Competition is salutary in getting them to do this.’
Other top-name judges at the final included: AC Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, Anita Anand, presenter of BBC2’s The Daily Politics, Sarah Sands, deputy editor of the London Evening Standard and Simon Wessely, Professor of Epidemiological and Liaison Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London.
Despite the disappointment at not winning overall, the seven other National Final teams all dusted themselves down and carried on contributing to the discussions throughout. A number of judges remarked how amazed they were by the enthusiasm that greeted the announcement of ‘audience questions’ in each debate. David Elstein, former Chair of Channel 5, said: ‘I have never seen such a sea of hands from an audience!’
With at least one student from each school winning an ‘honourable mention’ or prize for their contributions to the weekends’ debates, all of the teams impressed throughout. As Lauren Blenkinsop from Graveney School remarked of her experience:
‘I’m still on a high from just being in the same room as Nicholas Hytner! That, and getting the chance to argue face to face with Simon Hughes MP, made not -winning easy!’
Question time panel L –R: Jessica Asato, Claire Fox, Kenan Malik and Simon Hughes MP
Following their final triumph against Queens’ School from Bushey, the Durham Johnston team went on to take part in the first ever international debate in the competition’s history when the winners of Debating Matters UK and Debating Matters India, SM Choksey School from Pune.
After a nail-biting debate and an impressive to and fro with the judges, the Indian team won through and will be returning to Pune with a trophy marking their success. Debating the motion ‘Protecting the public from terrorism should come before civil liberties’, the Indian team were delighted with their win. Speaking afterwards, Mrinalini Shinde from Choksey said of their London trip:
‘I have shouted from the rooftops about how wonderful and thrilling DM India was, and how I have been brilliantly dazzled by the London National Finals, but most interesting of all was talking and debating with the UK teams and discovering how much we have in common.’
Teams and individuals also received some fantastic prizes. The winners, runners-up and semi-finalists have won £7000 worth of books and educational resources from Hodder Education, and team prizes from Waterstones, Encyclopaedia Britannica and magazine subscriptions to Prospect and The Week. The ‘Best Individual’ of the weekend, Nathan Ifill from New College, will be enjoying a weekend at Bestival, Jake Unsworth from Guiseley School Technology College, winner of the ‘Highly Commended Prize’ will be enjoying a concert at the Roundhouse in London and Chigozie Nri, winner of the ‘Commended’ prize will be making her own music, having won a rare facsimile copy of Mozart’s piano concerto in C minor from the Royal College of Music.
Semi finalist 1: Cardinal Newman Sixth Form College, Hove
Semi finalist 2: New College, Swindon
Runners up: Queens’ School, Bushey
Winners: Durham Johnston School, Durham
Gina Owens Award: Shivanand Ambalavan, S.M. Choksey School
Honourable Mentions: Catherine Smith (New College), Adrian Sawyer (New College), John Taylor (Durham Johnston Comprehensive), Jacob Reynolds (Queens’ School), Ellie Wilson (Bromsgrove School), Alex Platts (Queens’ School), Nick Devlin (Cardinal Newman School), Andrew Rhodes (Cardinal Newman School), Mrinilani Shinde (SM Choksey School), Alice Minnick (Madras College), Ellen Bowman (Madras College).
Commended – Chigozie Nri, Graveney School
Highly Commended – Jake Unsworth, Guiseley School Technology College
Winner – Nathan Ifill, New College
Nathan Ifill, New College team, makes the case for copyright