Eton College has a long-established tradition of debating. Each year, pupils develop their debating skills in weekly workshops and master their arguments in regular competitions. This year’s UCL Schools Debating Competition was a highlight, as debater Jonathan Z explained to the Press Office.

Last month a few of us were fortunate enough to be invited to the UCL Schools Debating Competition. Despite the omnipresence of COVID, it was an in-person competition, and this meant that we travelled amidst the aftermath of Storm Eunice to London. Being a schools competition, anyone not yet attending university could sign up and attend, and therefore we – mostly novices – faced debaters older and more experienced than us.

Having heard a brief introduction and recap of equity rules, we gathered in the centre of the auditorium, waiting for the draw and the release of the motion for Round One. We were nervous, yet hopeful as well. After the motion ‘This house believes that deep sea exploration should be significantly prioritised over space exploration’, we rushed to respective rooms in our duos to scribble as many points down in the 15 minutes preparation time as possible.

Inevitably, our lack of experience showed during Round One. The motion contained many underlying clashes that we were not able to probe sufficiently. Is it better to invest in something that is an established programme but has achieved little, or something that we have very little experience and knowledge in? Are the speculative gains of marine and cosmic exploration able to outweigh their tremendous costs in a desperate attempt to mitigate and adapt to climate change? Eton emerged with two 4th places and a 3rd place as we moved on to lunch and the next round.

The following motion, ‘This house would remove all bans on animal testing for medical research’, provided clearer points on both sides, so the burden here was to flesh out these points as well as possible, with ample mechanisms and relevant impacts. The debate concentrated on the clashes between the immorality of animal testing versus ensuring the quality of medical procedures.

The government side was required to prove how the ban on animal testing incentivises firms not to spend as much effort perfecting their drugs, thus resulting in flaws and issues which will harm a wider public. The opposition’s winning arguments came from proving how the harm to animals was unnecessary and other alternatives could be used to the same effect.

With two out of three rounds complete, some of our teams were in touching distance of the Silver Finals, but a second round draw meant that with any good performance the next round would be increasingly difficult. The third motion was ‘This house supports the nationalisation of all fictional work’. Having considered the impact of nationalisation on free speech and censorship versus the increased availability of literature, we regathered in the hall for the final announcements.

Whilst Eton didn’t make it through to the finals this time, and naturally we looked back and imagined arguments we could have expressed better, rebuttals which would have taken down an opposition’s case, responses to POIs which would have made us sound more eloquent and confident, we cherished the opportunity to debate with people from other schools, and to make friends with them between the rounds. We are more than thankful for the chance to learn by doing, by understanding our mistakes, and to do better next time.

We extend our sincerest gratitude to the UCL Debating Society, who organised the event, to Mr Harrison, who accompanied us all the way to London, despite the trains being cancelled due to the storm, to our coach Brian Wong, who stayed up until midnight in Hong Kong to provide live feedback to our debates, and to Richard, Aarit, Maxwell and Rohan, who led by example to raise the next generation of Eton’s debaters.