On Friday 21st June a team of six senior debaters from Merchiston Castle School arrived on the early train from Edinburgh to run a one day short prep workshop and competition at Aysgarth. The Merchiston boys were all from the senior years and were highly experienced debaters. John Bruce and Freddie Delap were former ESU semi-finalists and Debating Matters runners up; Ben Richards, Alex Richards and Charles Barber were school and national competition winners and Brodan Jewett-Stewart was a Debating Matters national finalist.They were ably assisted by their teacher Gail Cunningham, an ESU trained coach with over 30 years’ experience and winner of the Scottish final of the prestigious Debating Matters Competition.
The day began with the six boys running a workshop for 32 of Aysgarth’s Form 5/4 boys. Having had no experience of debating other than as a classroom activity, the Aysgarth boys were quickly initiated into the fine art of British Parliamentary debating. The core skills of constructing a persuasive argument, rebuttal and how to make a pithy point of information were all quickly demonstrated and such was the level of uptake and ability that all 32 Aysgarth boys were then involved in three rounds of debates. The motions were began with the more straightforward topic of banning gambling on to the more challenging topic of offering free transport to the elderly in British society. After each round, feedback was given and the aim of the day was to learn and develop skills of persuasive argument as well as to unearth the eight strongest speakers to create an Aysgarth final.
The final round proposed that we “introduce compulsory military service for all school leavers” Here the eight most promising students being invited to a final round in front of the entire year group. The audience members also took part in an amazing floor debate and the again the Aysgarth boys demonstrated exemplary skills in challenging arguments and offering contradictory points of information. All six finalists won certificates and prizes but the Merchiston Debating cup went to George F and Jack F.
Ms Cunningham wishes to thank the boys and the staff at Aysgarth for the warmth of their welcome and to congratulate all 32 participants for the way they took up the challenge of short prep debating. It is one of the most challenging and transferable skills you can learn and Aysgarth boys demonstrated astonishing skills of delivery and argumentation. The event is to be held annually and Merchiston are looking forward to returning in the summer of 2020.