The Great Debate
This term, two students in Year 11 have taken part in ‘The Great Debate’, a national public speaking
competition run by the Historical Association. The question this year was ‘Why does history matter
to me?’, with participants being required to speak for five minutes in response to the topic, before
answering questions from a panel of judges.
Lily Wiltshire and Ellie Gooch took up the challenge, and independently created speeches which
reflected their own passions and interests. Lily focused on medical history and the importance of
vaccination, whilst Ellie reflected on our failure to learn from the past, examining the repeated
exploitation of poorer nations by capitalist countries.
In addition to studying for their GCSE mock exams, they gave up many hours to practice in school
and at home, working on their presentation skills as well as the persuasiveness of their arguments.
In our internal final, judged by members of the History department, Ellie narrowly came out ahead
due to her outstanding knowledge of her topic. However, both students were offered places in the
regional final, which took place at Bristol University in a lecture theatre in their Humanities
There were 14 participants from 10 other schools around the South-West, and an audience full of
teachers, parents and judges. However, Lily and Ellie were the only Year 11s taking part, with other
schools all bringing Sixth-Formers. Despite this, they performed outstandingly, being 2 of only 5
speeches singled out by the judges in their verbal feedback. Ellie’s impressive passion and originality
was praised, whilst Lily’s thoughtful presentation and personal connection to her topic were
highlighted as of particular note. Both Ellie and Lily were also commended for how well they
responded to the judges’ questions in such an insightful way.
It was a privilege to be able to work with Ellie and Lily as part of this competition, and their
determination and curiosity to push themselves out of their comfort zones is an example to all. A
future in public speaking awaits!
The Great Debate runs annually, and is open to students in Years 10-13 – if anyone is interested,
keep an eye out next year for the new question or speak to me if you want to get involved.