11 February 2019
On Tuesday 5 February, The Oratory was delighted to welcome boys from eight local schools to our annual Prep Schools Debating Day. Teams of three boys from each school turned up, some excited, some a little nervous, but all ready and willing to learn more about how to speak in public, sell their arguments, and win a debate.
In the morning, after fortifying themselves with juice and biscuits, the boys were divided up into three groups, one boy from each school, and took part in workshops run by young men from The Oratory’s Lower Sixth Public Speaking and Debating Societies. In one workshop they focussed on speaking fluently in ‘Just a Minute’ style exercises, where they learned to avoid hesitation, repetition, and deviation, grappling with all sorts of difficult unprepared subjects such as ‘why I hate school’, ‘why Britain is a great country’, and, indeed, ‘why Britain is not a great country’! In another, they learned how to use their voices well to project clearly, and how to employ body language effectively, with expert advice from Fourth Form Drama student, Harry Hiscox; here they took part in a ‘balloon debate’, in which they each made the case as to why they should not be thrown out to lighten the load of an imaginary sinking hot air balloon, either playing themselves, or in the role of a famous person from history. In the third, they were taught formal debating, how to use the different speakers’ role effectively in a team, how to handle questions, and how to be an effective proposition or opposition; they practised with the mock debate on the motion: ‘winter holidays are better than summer holidays’.
At lunchtime, the boys returned to their school teams, and were given the motions for the afternoon’s competition, learning whether their team would be for or against. There were four debates in two rooms, with two motions: ‘This house believes that homework should be banned’, and ‘This house believes schools should bring back corporal punishment’. After a well-earned lunch, all the groups had an hour in the Library to come up with their arguments and hone their speeches. The debates were then chaired by two of the Lower Sixth Team, with plenty of difficult questions from the floor, and judged by Matthew Syddall, Deputy Head Academic, and Stephen Burrows, Head of Sixth Form. Amid some excellent and impressive performances, Farleigh and Caldicott just pipped the other schools to take the trophies. We all thoroughly enjoyed the day, and look forward to hosting it again next year!