Our finals day began with a prompt start, meeting early that morning to catch our routine Windsor Central train to Oxford. After a short journey we arrived at the Oxford Union having had our usual team talk: case strategy, any style and content elements to consider and notable teams to watch out for. The event was set to have fierce competition and it sure delivered; both national and international teams attended bringing their own style and debate culture with them. Throughout the course of the day we went up against teams from Hong Kong, Greece, Canada and Britain.
The Oxford Union was packed with debaters, coaches, judges and the excitement of expectant competitors. After a brief introduction and recap of equity rules, the initial draw was made and with it formed the usual crowd of restless individuals eager to find their team name, venue and position amongst a scrolling list of excel-like rows. Once each team had found the necessary info, the current time was given, debate start time announced and the motion released. Immediately the room burst with energy as teams began to chatter, regroup and make their way to their respective venues anxious to begin generating content for their case.
The first motion: ‘This house would ban religious primary and secondary schools’, made for a balanced and interesting debate discussing issues like discrimination, tolerance and the impact of schools in the formations of beliefs and behaviour of students in respect to themselves and each other as children and young adults. The British Parliament style of debate is composed of four pairs and two opposing sides, government and opposition, with two pairs per side. This complex and highly strategic style makes for a dynamic and productive debate, through which the judge concludes a call of positions based on the main debate clashes between opposing pairs and the degree of contribution of agreeing pairs.
Owing to an energetic and engaged start we were able to secure a victory and ended round one on three points (three points are awarded to 1st position, two points to 2nd, one point to 3rd and no points to 4th).
Then second motion: ‘This house believes that celebrity leadership in social movement has done more harm than good’, made for a reasonable challenge as we were matched to oppose the motion against a very able and experienced Dulwich team with whom we would compete against several times after. The debate discussed the trade-off between the mass attention provided by figure heads of the movement and the ability of a leader to relate to those they represent and carry those concerns into decision making. After a heated debate, the judge’s call gave Eton our second victory and three points.
After the initial rounds, having enjoyed lunch as a team we returned to the Union to complete the set of four rounds from which eight teams would be selected for a semi-final. The software used to produce the draw matches together teams by their position score and so our remaining rounds were set to be increasingly more difficult.
The third motion: ‘This house believes that more developed countries should pay less developed countries not to exploit their natural resources in areas of environmental significance’ represented perhaps the greatest challenge of the initial rounds and the potential to derail our journey into the semi-finals. We were set to oppose the motion against a very talented and eloquent team from the German Swiss International School in Hong Kong. As if that were not enough; the motion was in practice reasonably government heavy and we experienced quite some desperation whilst struggling to produce and combat their case with effective material. Fortunately, we managed to pull through and concluded a demanding debate with an unexpected and formidable 2nd position losing to German Swiss International school.
The fourth motion: ‘This house would give all citizens under the age of 30 two votes in all elections’ would be contested between high scoring teams, however a solid performance could almost guarantee our continuation into the semi-finals; we simply had to keep it together. Something much easier said than done, especially when drawn once again alongside Dulwich and German Swiss at such a crucial point in the competition. After a critical debate which considered democracy and equality and the legitimacy of government intervention and control of electorate power; we returned to the main building where we awaited the results, having been given no call of positions or feedback.
After supper we reconvened in the main chamber where the remaining eight teams, who were to continue on, were announced. To our joy and excitement Eton was to move on to the semi-finals where we encountered Dulwich once more. The motion: ‘This house would only imprison violent offenders’ provided a substantial challenge especially in opposition of our ever-present British rivals. Fortunately, we were able to hold on to a formidable 2nd position and our much-wanted ticket into the final, having discussed the role of deterrence and retributive justice of imprisonment.
So far, the competition had gone to plan, a few uncertainties here and there but ultimately, we had secured a place in the final. However, having reached this point the gravity of the situation became very apparent. We were up against top tier youth debaters from German Swiss, Dulwich and St. Paul’s Girls School. As we drew position, the tension increased, anxiety rose and focus heightened. The room froze before the motion’s reveal; then immediately, we were off, like bullets from a gun in search of a place to prepare with fifteen minutes on the clock.
The motion: ‘Assuming it were possible, this house would allow soldiers and law enforcement officials to have their ability to feel fear removed’ presented an immense challenge from an opposing side and our initial reaction was pure desperation. Somehow, almost entirely unknown to us, we managed to flesh out a case and when that moment came, one by one, we delivered our part, to our amazement with some level of success. Having fought the proposition case for what felt like the highest of stakes the debate concluded having explored the nature of fear, its importance in emotion and relationships, coercion and dehumanisation. Finally, the panel returned, congratulated us all and thanked every member of staff for their generous and diligent contribution to the competition’s management. However, tension had far from dissipated and the air was heavy with curiosity; debaters, coaches, friends and family were all anxious to know the outcome. Victory had gone to German Swiss International School with Eton as runners up.
As a team, we couldn’t be more joyous for an opposition who through a brilliant display of ability and style had won the competition. Opposition whom, by this third encounter, we consider friends. The experience will serve us enormously going forward and it would be impossible to express how proud we are to represent the school at this level and grateful for coaching and opportunities as incredible as these to develop as debaters as well as individuals. We extend our sincerest gratitude to both Mr. Berman and Mr. Shirwani for everything.
Johnny White OS (JDM)