HA Great Debate for Schools

This year’s HA Great Debate for Schools is “Should we judge historical figures by the morals of today?” The HA is really pleased to be organising this in partnership with BBC World Histories and the final will once again be at Windsor Castle. 

Before the final in March 2020 there are regional heats around the country and the info about these and all the other information you need, plus hints, tips and guidance are here

This is a fantastic way for teachers to help the most able and interested young historians to engage with the subject. The competition is at 6th form level, but you may have able and interested Year 11s, or even Year 10s who you know can hold their own at such a level already. If so, encourage them to join in. Last year’s overall winner, Shivanii Arun, was in Year 11! Here she describes her experience of her regional heat in the West Midlands, where her speech on the Industrial Revolution has its first outing…

“After a late night rewriting my entire speech no fewer than four times, a stuttered and wholly unconvincing run through at lunch time and a taxi ride spent looking up last-minute facts that I really should have done ages ago, it would be safe to say that I was not expecting to come out of the competition with any sort of title, let alone the winning one. I’d already entered that dangerous loop of ‘I still have next year, right?’ as a defence mechanism against disappointment.

Everyone in the room was honestly pretty intimidating. As the only non-sixth former present, I was painfully aware of the Year 13, multiple badge holding presence of RGS [a local school – ed.]. Their debating renown had been made known to me on the way. Everyone was silent as they skimmed over their speeches for a final time, and you could feel the intense concentration in the air. Though the hosting Camp Hill teacher tried to lighten up the atmosphere, there’s only a certain extent to which a competition between five weary students trying to one-up each other on their knowledge of revolutions can be totally carefree.

The competing order was picked randomly out of a hat, and I ended up last, which gave me around 20 minutes of agonizing listening to different speeches – all of fantastic quality and all on topics that my knowledge was slim to none on – which never seemed to end. Eventually, my name was called.

After the timer (talk about time pressure!) had started, I launched into my speech. From the time I started to speak to when I stopped – thankfully right before the blaring alarm went off – I can’t remember much. The whole time, I focused on selling it to the judges. Just when I thought my ordeal was over, the judges started to put forward their questions.

  • Who inspired you?
  • How can you say that without thinking about this?
  • Have you considered this obscure thing?

For what little amount I remember about the speech itself, I remember even less about answering questions. I think that’s what stress does to you. After I’d totally finished my speech and questions, the judges called all the teachers to the next room to help adjudicate. Our debating competition had seemingly been passed on to them.

With the teachers gone, the ice between the competitors seemed to thaw a little. We started to chat casually, trying to forget what was happening behind the door. Everyone was sizing up their competition; it was obvious. Our speeches had all been so similar in quality that it was anyone’s game.

Finally, after almost ten minutes of forced small talk, the judges returned. To their credit, they didn’t stall at all – they led right into their judgement, and said that I had won.

When I heard them, I don’t think I reacted for a good thirty seconds. My hopes for the competition had been to enter without embarrassing myself, and that was about all. I was in shock, even as I went up to receive my conspicuously thick book on the Crusades and posed for pictures with the judges.

It only sunk in outside, in the cold, as we waited for our delayed taxi. It was at that point I truly felt glad to have entered the competition. That morning, I’d been up in the early hours, adding the final touches to my speech. As cliché as it sounds, I really was doubting whether it was worth it. When I had scanned the email about it, I hadn’t known anything about the age of revolutions, or even paid much attention to what the competition was. I just noticed that it had the word ‘debating’, and figured I’d give it a shot.

It turns out that starting things on a whim doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t mean more to you in the long run.

Now, I’m obviously overjoyed to be heading on to the next stage in Windsor Castle. It was not even a possibility I considered on the taxi journey to Camp Hill Boys’. I learnt a lot in the first stage of the competition, and between now and the next stage, I’ve got a rough idea of what to improve; what to add on to. I’ve been watching past winners’ speeches almost religiously, and this time, I’ll be entering to win.

This is a shortened version of a blogpost that fist appeared here. Thanks to Gemma Hargraves (@History_Girls) for making it available for us to use here. @histassoc 


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