UCS debaters make impressive case at Oxford Union

UCS had four representatives in the finals of the Oxford Schools’ debating contest at the University of Oxford. This Oxford Union-run competition is the largest of its kind in the UK, and pitted the UCS contingent – comprising two teams of two Year 12 pupils – against the top national and international debaters in their age category. This is how they got on …

By Jake Altmann

Last Saturday, 11th March, four UCS debaters – Ronny Levy, Oskar Gershfield, Jacob Shapiro and myself – attended the national finals of the Oxford Schools’ debating competition at the prestigious Oxford Union.

We were competing in two teams of two and were up against more than 100 other teams from around the UK and beyond, with contestants having flown in from the Philippines, Hong Kong and Canada (which certainly put our complaints about the one-hour train ride into perspective!). Getting there, figuratively, had been no easy feat – both UCS teams had finished in the top seven from dozens of teams in the West London regional round a few weeks before. Even so, we were shocked, terrified and elated in equal measure.

The Finals’ Day debates covered a diverse range of topics, from feminism to whether schools should teach vocational subjects via the role of AI in future society. Pitted against the aforementioned foreign teams, as well as students from schools like Eton and St Paul’s who had years of debating experience, we took on “some of the best debaters nationally and internationally”, to quote my team-mate Ronny.

Competition rules demanded that we had only 15 minutes between being told the motion and making our case – a timeframe further abridged by the confused dash to find the rooms allocated to our debates. Without being allowed to use books or the internet, the style of our speeches constituted a major break from the essays we were used to writing, and no points were awarded for style. It was entirely a question of the solidity of our arguments.

My team came tantalisingly close to being among the eight teams to reach the semi-final round. We won enough debates overall but lost out to the other teams on the more granular ‘speaker points’, meaning both UCS teams bowed out after the fourth round. It was still an incredible, if intimidating, experience to debate at the Oxford Union, and a deeply valuable one.

Debating is the challenge of attempting to build a rock-solid argument in a short space of time, which every other team will do everything in their power to rip to shreds. From a cynical point of view, you could say it is ideal preparation for university. But really, this was an incredibly fun challenge and we are very proud of how well we did.

Back to all highlights
You may also be interested in

Fives back in favour at UCS

Fives back in favour at UCS

Fresh take on an old classic

Fresh take on an old classic

DNA link-up at Pre-Prep

DNA link-up at Pre-Prep