Craigmount High teens beat £40k-a-year Eton and Dulwich schools in debating contest

A formidable battle faced two teenagers as they confronted a room of argumentative aristocrats and rich kids from some the UK’s most prestigious private schools.

Thursday, 4th April 2019, 19:15 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th April 2019, 19:23 pm
Pic Lisa Ferguson 04/04/2019 L-R: Aidan Shiels, Kiran Bodasing, Sean Andrew, Andrew McDiarmid, Akhila Potluru, Freddy Simonnet- Lefevre, and Andrew McPake who is the English teacher and debating coach

But the resilience and talent of Craigmount High’s debating team of Freddy Simonnet-Lefevre and Sean Andrew, both 17, helped them emerge victorious over challengers from Eton College - which costs up to £40,700 in annual fees.

The Capital kids reached the quarter-finals of University of Durham Schools Debating Competition by also defeating a team from London’s exclusive Dulwich College - which also costs wealthy parents £40,000 a year in fees - in the process.

And with top independent and selective schools able to afford the price tag for private professional debating tutors, the Craigmount team relied on their experience, style and grit to reach the quarter-finals, before going out to St. Paul’s School for Girls.

Eton schoolboys in traditional tails at Eton College. Pic: Tim Graham/Robert Harding/REX/Shutterstock

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English teacher and debating tutor Andy McPake said: “I am absolutely delighted with the team because they showed the perseverance and application where other teams might have felt intimidated. They gave 100 percent as we always encourage our teams to do and they got the result they deserved.”

Held at the weekend, the pupils compete in pairs against three other teams on certain topics. They are given the subject 15 minutes in advance of the debate starting and must quickly pool their knowledge and assess the strongest argument from their given viewpoint.

On completion of the arguments a panel of judges ranks the debating teams from one to four.

Craigmount faced topics such as patents in the pharmaceutical industry, trade unions, and religious services in deprived communities.

Freddy, from Saughtonhall said despite the intense topics it’s important to focus and think about the strongest argument possible but also what your opponents arguments will be.

His partner Sean, who has been debating since he was in second year, said that being able to articulate a coherent argument was one of the main factors that drew him to debating, as well as the competitive element.

“Just the scale of the competition can make you nervous but I don’t think added pressure looking at the names of the schools helps - debating against people who you haven’t in the past such as Eton and Dulwich was unexpected but not different to debating against anyone you haven’t before.”

Mr McPake runs a debating club every week which attracts 30-60 pupils. He gives his own free time to coach and travel to competitions. He added: “It would be foolish to expect a Scottish state school to invest as much as some of these schools, we have great support form Mr Rae, however it is worth stopping for a second to realise the kind of significant resources available to others.”

Their success is the culmination of successful season for Craigmount. Earlier in campaign, Aidan Shiels, 18, and Andrew McDiarmid, 17, won the University of St Andrew’s debating competition, while Kiran Bodasing, 16, and Akhila Potluru, 15, made the final of the Northern Junior Debating Championship.

“The lunchtime sessions in the library are very well attended and open to all. We are very proud of our many successes at the highest level, with the older and more experienced students now mentoring the younger ones.