An Introduction to British Parliamentary Debating
The Oxford Union Schools’ Competition uses a format known as British Parliamentary (BP) debating. This is the format used by most university competitions for schoolchildren (it is also used by the Bristol, Cambridge and Durham Schools’ Competitions), but it is quite different from other formats, such as that used in the ESU Schools’ Mace. Speakers who have debated in other formats usually have no difficulty switching to BP, but it is important that everyone understands the format and rules of the debate. This information sheet can only give the most salient points about BP debating; if this format is new to you, we strongly recommend that you attend one of our workshops, to which all schools that enter the Oxford Union Schools’ Competition are invited.
Every debate has a motion; this is the issue for discussion. A good motion has clear arguments in favour of it and against it. The motions used in the Oxford Union Schools’ Competition will be on topics that a young person who frequently reads a good newspaper and thinks about what they are reading will be well equipped to argue about. Often, the motions are highly topical. Examples of recent motions are posted on the website (www.oxfordschools.org.uk). The motion is expressed “This House…”: this is a convention and “The House” is all the people present at the debate. Each team is allocated whether they will propose or oppose the motion. The teams are allocated whether they will speak first or second on their side of the motion. The teams sit as shown in this diagram. The roles of each position on the table are discussed later on this sheet. You must not contradict the other team on your side, but you are competing against them: you must show the judges that you can debate more persuasively that the teams on the other side and the other team on your own side. You should therefore not discuss with the other team on your side what you are going to say or help them in any way. Indeed, you must not talk to anyone other than your partner during the preparation period: coaching during this time by teachers, parents or anyone else is strictly prohibited.
Basic rules and advice about structure
• • • • Speeches are five minutes in length. The first and last minutes are protected time – no points of information may be made during this time. Points of Information should be offered during the three minutes of unprotected time when members of the other side are speaking. Speeches should have a clear Internal Structure. It is often best to begin by attacking the arguments of previous speakers from the other side (especially the one just before you) and then to make you own points. Try to separate your arguments into two, three or four areas (e.g. a social argument, a political argument and an economic argument). Signpost your arguments clearly (e.g. “this is my first point”, “now to move onto my second points”, “lastly, looking at my third point” etc): this makes it much easier for the audience and the judges to follow your speech. Work as a team, ensuring that your arguments are consistent and complementary.
The roles of the four teams
Opening Proposition Team First speaker 1. Define the motion (see below). 2. Outline the case he and his partner will put forward and explain which speaker will deal with which arguments. 3. Develop his own arguments, which should be separated into two or three main points. 4. Finish by summarising his main points Second speaker 1. Re-cap the team line. 2. Rebut the response made by the first opposition speaker to his partner’s speech. 3. Rebut the first opposition speaker’s main arguments. 4. Develop his own arguments – separated into two or three main points. 5. Finish with a summary of the whole team case. Opening Opposition Team First speaker 1. Respond to the definition if it is unfair or makes no link to the motion. You can re-define (offer an alternative interpretation of...
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