The Perse School

Pupils enjoy a visit to the Cambridge Union for a day of debating

22 Feb 2016

On Saturday 20 February, three Year 9 debaters – Archie Bowman, Alex Henderson and Kirill Nezhenstev – represented the School at the International Competition for Young Debaters, which was held at the Cambridge Union Society. Kirill has written a report on the day’s events – we hope you enjoy reading.

“The day began early for us and the clock had not struck nine when we arrived at the Cambridge Union. As we sat and awaited the start of the competition we rehearsed our speeches, anticipating a calm environment where we would go through the motions as we used in our school club.

The first debate loomed, and, still unaware of the motion, we began to feel a certain anxiety at the prospect of going in so unprepared. The revelation of the first motion was not altogether pleasant. “This House would ban meat” is not a statement we agreed with, yet, as luck had it, we were assigned to support it. What’s more, in fifteen minutes we had to come up with a structured, well thought out five-minute argument. I must confess that this was far from simple.

The first debate turned out to be rather more difficult than we had imagined, as we were required to debate in the British parliamentary style. Each debate involved four teams, two on each side. Unfortunately for us we got the least appealing position. I spoke seventh out of eight and so was still required to bring new points to the argument, which was difficult. It was therefore disappointing, though not altogether surprising that we came last in this particular debate.

I don’t remember any time when I have ever had to adapt so quickly! The few minutes before the start of the next round was a frenzy of scribbling. The comments I received from the judges led me to completely rewrite the speech I had prepared.

The second debate, on the pre-announced motion, went much better. Archie and I both felt more confident now that we knew what to expect. A more favourable position in the debate and the hastily adapted speeches led us to perform much better. The judges took almost fifteen minutes deciding the verdict for this one. We came a very close second in what was a very tough debate. Once again the judges’ comments at the end were useful and informative; I learnt a great deal in those five minutes of feedback.

A break for lunch provided us with ample time to discuss a strategy for the next motion, which again was announced only a quarter of an hour before the debate. It turned out to be “This House would adopt streaming in all schools”. We were, for the second time, unlucky with our position. The results of this debate weren’t announced but I do feel that there was a vast improvement between our first and last debates.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Union. The motions were interesting and challenging, and the judges extremely helpful. The format of the debate was new and exciting, and, though we didn’t get to the final I am very much looking forward to coming back next year.”

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