Challoner’s debating: an activity with such great history in the past, with the mantle now being carried by a group of students in the developmental system since Year 9. Tournament after tournament, league after league, competition after competition, the current crop of Year 13 debaters have done it all! In this week’s Oxford Schools debating tournament, Challoner’s entered two of its Year 13 pairs: longstanding pair Matt Dagnall and Tom Franks, winners of the inaugural House Debating, and Soorya Thavaraj and Daniel Cox, who consistently perform as one of the top teams in the league and have a wealth of experience.

When at Magdalen College School, Oxford, Challoner’s found out the format of the 64-team competition. Each team would debate twice, in British Parliamentary debates featuring four pairs in each; and it was assumed the top teams from the two debates would go through. As we ambled into the hall, it was difficult to not feel out of place. Challoner’s were one of a few state schools present at the competition and one of the only schools without a debating teacher accompanying us! However, of course, we were not fazed and were eager to learn the subject of our first debate, which as we found out was ‘This House Would Legalise Prostitution’.

Matt and Tom were placed as the Opening Government in the debate, meaning they had to propose this motion after just fifteen minutes preparation. Our opponents were from Didcot Girls' School, The Abbey School and a swing team to make up the numbers. Tom opened the case with an excellent speech, elaborately elucidating as to how legalising prostitution would lead to a regulated system in which the black market would disappear. The regulation would undoubtedly lead to a clean system without abuse, underage workers, or any exploitation. The leader for the opposition responded in a speech that lacked evidence and was rather short. She claimed that a regulated system would lead to an illegal drug trade within the system, a rather outlandish claim that seemed to all to have no basis in reality whatsoever! Matt, who spoke next, was sure to pounce on this error. He further reinforced Tom’s excellent point about regulation, emphasising that there would be checks on all registered prostitutes and so such claims from the opposition were erroneous. He further made a salient point to this debate - one of freedom. If both members of society are consenting and of age, there should be nothing to restrict them doing what they please and anything else is a gross infringement of freedom of choice. The next opposition speech was equally baffling, and a considerable damp squib. The Didcot student failed to identify any reason why prostitution should remain legal, much to the frustration of Matt who let out a sigh, which only seemed to further frustrate the opposition! The rest of the debate continued with the second Government and opposition making similar points to the first pairs and failing to a large extent to extend the debate. After the debate Matt and Tom were happy with their performance and felt they had held their own with some other good teams.

It was a truly enriching experience and while we didn't win I felt I improved drastically as a debater.

Matthew Dagnall

Soorya and Dan debated as Opening Opposition in their first debate, facing off against Wycombe Abbey and The Cherwell School. The ‘Prime Minister’ opened the debate for the Government’s side of the case with a selection of points considering the health benefits for those working in the sex industry should the motion go through, however notably failing to define the motion. This speech was followed swiftly by Dan as leader of the Opposition. Dan came down hard on the points made by the first speaker, delivering a generous chunk of rebuttal against most of the principles of the Proposition's case. However, Dan made the mistake of focusing too heavily on technicalities in the Proposition’s case. This error was made up for in the main body of Dan’s speech which tackled points key to the Opposition case: the immorality of the sex industry, deeply ingrained societal taboos and the idea that we should be getting women out of prostitution instead of legalising it. This was followed up by a speech from Opening Government which served to define the motion and analyse many of the points made by the ‘Prime Minister’, and introduced the idea of the sex industry being taxed. This speech was thoroughly shut down by Soorya as deputy leader of the Opposition in a rebuttal-heavy speech that successfully tackled the points about the so-called health benefits mentioned by the Proposition. Soorya’s raised the idea that the motion would create a black market for taxless prostitution and bringing more vulnerable women into the industry, who would be at risk from assault; and he questioned the Proposition's practical points about how the industry could be subject to regulation.

The other debaters

The motion for the second debate was ‘This House Would Ban Unpaid Internships’. Dan and Soorya debated as Closing Government. The Opening Government focused mainly on the idea of unpaid work being akin to exploitation of those in the unpaid internships as well as incorporating several weaker points. The Opening Opposition responded to these claims with points that unpaid internships are a choice, that the motion would decrease productivity and it would remove internships as an option for young people, ignoring the existence of paid internships. Dan followed this as third speaker for the Government’s case; having learned from the feedback from his first debate, Dan put this to deadly use by proceeding to demolish the points made by the Opposition. Dan kept up the pressure with points that made it clear that Challoner’s were a force to be reckoned with in this debate, taking a risk with the point about exploitation which paid off, with the Chair of the debate commenting on how it was a point better made than by Opening Government. Dan went on to talk about how the motion would bring many more people into work by motivating graduates to get paid jobs, and it would encourage employers to hire more skilled young workers in the current political climate of Brexit - a link appreciated by the Chair. After a speech from the Opposition, Soorya entered his role as summary speaker for the Proposition, identifying three key points of ‘clash and contention’: the morality of unpaid work, productivity and the numbers of young people in work. Soorya’s final point of information (POI) blew the Opposition away, impressed the Chair and cemented Soorya and Dan’s victory in this debate.

In today's world, is a company's profit more important than the needs of the individual?

Soorya Thavaraj

Matt and Tom also debated this motion in the Closing Government position, what they believed to be the stronger side of the motion, which meant they had time to mull over the concept rather than frantically write a speech! They faced Abingdon School, d'Overbroeck's and Pate's Grammar School. Whilst they had debated last round, this time around they wanted and needed the performance of their lives - total annihilation was the aim. Abingdon started, opening the case for the Proposition in a nonchalant but convincing manner, however Matt and Tom were sure they could add to the arguments made. A few aggressive POIs later, it was time for the Opposition to open their case, however as the judge pointed out after the debate they had made a fatal mistake. The Opposition speaker argued that internships should be unpaid, rather than actually arguing that the government doesn’t have the right to ban all unpaid internships. This was a critical mistake as it is much easier to argue the freedom for corporations to choose how they deal with their internships. Of course the Proposition were happy to leave this as it was and continue to argue that all internships should be paid - an argument that met little effective rebuttal. Then it was Tom’s turn to speak - this would probably be the most important speech he would ever make. The Challoner’s Speaks winner from Year 7 spoke with excellent eloquence over three key issues as to why internships should be paid. Firstly, our society is built on the principle that work is directly proportional to money, that an unpaid internship undermines this is borderline to slavery. He continued on, saying that the company gains more from an internship than the intern as it is getting work done and earning money for no cost to them. Finally he talked about how at every stage of education, students have some sort of funding but an intern cannot live, travel and eat off literally nothing. However, in the next speech, things got really interesting as the tension in the room reached a boiling point. During the third opposition speech, the Opening Government made a point of information, lasting just over the allotted 10 seconds time. However, the speaker was not happy and bellowed ‘I’m cutting you off’, much to the shock of all involved. He then continued his speech while claiming the point of information was to waste his time and was an attempt at cheating. Outraged at this peculiar claim, Opening Government requested a point of privilege from the judge to demand an apology, but by this point the Chair had lost any control that they had ever had, in a debate that clearly contained some large personalities. The speaker assured aggressively that points of privilege do not actually exist under these rules and after his speech there was a tense face off between the two pairs, showing how real debating can get! Matt then came up to close the debate, in a jovial mood after the amusing incident that had occurred just previously. His job was to summarise everything said by the Government and explain why the Opposition was wrong - a challenge he rose to well. He dispelled rumours that interns are usually short term, that interns gain more than a company in an unpaid internship and that interns are eligible for larger than normal unemployment benefits. The Opposition summary speaker’s speech lacked credibility as everything she claimed to stand for had been previously destroyed. This was the performance Matt and Tom wanted and needed.

The difficult part of this competition is that at no point do you find out your results - all that is announced are the eight teams out of 64 that go through to the next round. Challoner’s weren’t in those eight teams, however critically at no point had any Challoner’s team faced any of the winning teams. If we had then things hopefully would have been different. Regardless, Challoner’s performance was one to be proud of and at no point did any of our team feel outclassed by anyone else at the tournament.