On 1 October 2023, Jess and Ashani from Tiffin Girls’ School, one of three state school teams in attendance, were the overall winning team of the Eton Schools’ debating competition 2023.
After breaking into the Gold (Open) Finals held in the Jafar Hall, Jess and Ashani overcame stiff competition to win over a panel of the five top-ranked professional judges in the competition. Jess also won the individual best speaker award.
Jess said, “I have been debating informally throughout my secondary school career. In Year 11, I was accepted onto the England Development Squads, where I was introduced to the WSDC format. At trials for Team England, I was selected for the England B squad and trained in this format for a year, while simultaneously leading the Debate club within my school and entering teams for the first time into competitions like the ESU Mace Debating, Dulwich Schools’ and, most recently, Eton Schools’.”
Eton Schools’ is the largest student-run in-person debating tournament in Europe. Previously named the Eton Open, the competition was shut down by COVID. This year, a joint effort between Eton’s Keepers of Debating, Sebastian and Dev, and the Director of Tournaments, Alvin, pushed to restart Eton’s yearly tradition.
The 36 competing teams included entries from St. Paul’s Girls School, Westminster, South Hampstead High School, and Eton College. Over 100 people attended or helped in the tournament. Unlike previous years, Eton Schools’ was judged almost entirely by external worldclass judges from Cambridge and chaired by Si Kai Feng, Sam Soh, and Matt Hazell, the coach of the England National Debate Team. Equally unprecedented was the decision to waive registration fees, with Eton subsidising the registration fee for participating teams and transport costs improve accessibility to debaters from state schools.
Alvin explained, “The eagerness of Eton’s Leadership Team to support our pitch for a competition with no registration fees confirmed for me that all of us in the School, both boys and teachers, are united in our goal of improving accessibility for invaluable opportunities, such as debating. I am so proud of Tiffins’ amazing achievements.”
Matt Hazell, the coach of the England National Debate Team, worked closely with the student organisers in coordinating the competition as one of the Chief Adjudicators. He said, “This competition was superbly organised. The convening team were responsive, dedicated and ruthlessly efficient in all they did—it is a rare thing for a school’s debating competition to run on time, let alone ahead of schedule. For many schools, the cost of attending tournaments can be a barrier, but by running this event completely free (and with an excellent lunch included), Eton widened access and levelled the playing field. I will definitely be bringing back my pupils next year to what I am confident will only be an even bigger, better event.”
Reflecting on her experience at the competition, Jess added, “Eton was initially very overwhelming, large and impressive. However, over the course of the day I felt very welcomed by all the boys there as well as the members of staff present. All of them were warm and supportive, with those who helped to judge the rounds giving me invaluable feedback that I can take into future debates. I left having made several new friends, feeling very grateful to Eton for the experience.”