Ireland’s best schools debating program, open to schools throughout Munster.

The Philosoph Schools project is sponsored by Arthur Cox, one of Ireland's leading law firms
The Philosoph Schools project is sponsored by Arthur Cox, one of Ireland’s leading law firms
A student speaks at the Munster Schools final
A student speaks at the Munster Schools final

The Schools Project is one of the core functions of the society and has been in operation for many decades. Our schools programme is run on a voluntary basis and seeks to promote and develop debating activities and opportunities in schools across Munster. Debating as an activity is growing in popularity across secondary schools. As the primary provider of debating and public speaking outlets for students in Munster, we have devoted enormous amounts of time facilitating and fostering this activity through a variety of different ways.

Speaking in public is something commonly feared by many but our work is helping young people build their self confidence and immerse themselves in a range of social, cultural, political and economic issues. Debating equips students with the ability to express themselves in a reasonable, logical and coherent manner. This is a skill that extends far beyond the parameters of a debating chamber as students are more comfortable addressing groups, making presentations, validating an opinion and at interviews. As the main providers of debating opportunities in Munster we facilitate debating activities through the schools project in a variety of ways as outlined below.

The Munster Schools Competition

The Munster Schools Competition is the biggest competition we run. It is the largest non-sporting competition in Munster. It is for senior cycle students with an interest in debating. There are between four and five rounds of debate which we hold in UCC and across schools in Munster and a grand final which is always attended by a prominent Irish media personality. The competition has grown in numbers over the past number of years.

The format of the competition follows the format traditionally used by the Irish Times Debating Competition; Ireland’s most prestigious debating competition. Speakers compete initially in teams and can progress as teams or individuals. Speeches are five minutes in length for the opening rounds and seven minutes in the later rounds. Speeches are prepared in advance and the motions for debate cover many social, cultural, economic and political topics.

The final of the competition is a prestigious day for our society, the finalists along with their families and schools. Both Paul Reynolds and Bryan Dobson from RTE have joined us as our guest chair for the final as have Michael Martin and Mark Little over the past number of years. The winning team and winning individual of the Munster final go on to compete in the All Ireland School’s Final, The Munster representatives have been very successful in the national final, taking the winning team twice and runner up team over the past three years.

Junior Schools Competition

This a new competition that we founded to meet the growing demand for debating opportunities for first to third year students. In its first year of existence 40 teams registered. This competition will be run in the second term and it is expected sign up will advance the past two years. The competition operates in a similar fashion to the main schools competition with three rounds and a grand final.

This competition is beneficial to students as they are getting valuable public speaking and debating experience from a younger age, allowing them to become much more confident in themselves and become extremely talented competitive debaters.

The Munster Mace Competition

Modelled after another prestigious university competition, the Irish Mace, the Munster Mace is one of our most popular events. Its format differs from the main schools and junior schools format as this is a one day competition with three rounds of unprepared debate and a final. The motions are released 15 minutes before each debate begins. This type of debating is called mace debating and provides students with great preparation for college debating as this is the most popular format used. As it is a one day event, we recruit some of the best debaters and judges from UCC and the other Irish institutions to adjudicate, giving students constructive feedback for their next competition.

The All Ireland Schools Debating Final

UCC Philosophical Society had the honour of hosting the All Ireland Final in both 2013 and 2011. This was a great privilege and achievement for the society as these occasions are the only times for the final to be held outside of Dublin in over 30 years. This is testament to the dedication of the dedicated schools working group that exists in UCC. We have had video messages of support from Joan Burton, Miriam O’Callaghan, Bryan Dobson, Matt Cooper and Michael Martin for the finalists played at the final last year. The final is a gala affair and UCC enjoys a strong reputation as a welcoming host.

Lunch box debates

These debates see up to 12 secondary school students pair up with UCC debaters to compete and adjudicate on a motion. Some students partner with UCC debaters and some sit on the judging panel. Both provide students with valuable experience as they learn and get advice from debaters who have competed at school and university level. These debates provide students with an insight into our society too and many past schools debaters go on to become valuable committee members and successful university debaters.

Workshop service

For many years we have been offering a debating workshop service to secondary school students and teachers. On an arranged day up to five members of the Philosophical Society will travel to a school and conduct a workshop for three to four hours depending on the group size. We have put together a very valuable workshop format covering the key areas of debating and introduction to debating. This includes speaker roles, debate format, delivery, style, refutation, rebuttal and points of information. Where we are asked we provide a more advanced workshop covering topics like international relations, feminism and economic policy. These workshops are run on a voluntary basis by society members who give up their own time travel often to rural locations across Munster.

Resources

We have a vast collection of debating resources that are informative and helpful to teachers and students. Our ‘Don’t panic guide to schools’ debating’ was printed and distributed in 2012. This is an introductory booklet and is a valuable source of reference for students. We hope to publish a more in depth debating guide this year. Our website is undergoing big changes at the moment, as soon as it is running again we will have a catalogue of online resources running again.

Supporting other debating initiatives

Each year we are approached by many schools that are holding in house competitions and would like qualified adjudicators. We always support these internal competitions by offering help selecting motions and by adjudicating them as much as we can. This involves travelling to many schools across Munster to adjudicate rounds. We have very close ties with the Cork City Schools Competition run by CBC Cork and the National Junior Mace.

Testimonial

“My involvement in schools debating began in 2007, when I was a quiet and uncommunicative first year who had difficulty even maintaining one-to-one conversations. Seven years later, and I was confident and competent in speaking to audiences of hundreds. I owe this transformation in no small part to the involvement of the Philosoph in schools development.”—Cian Luddy, former Schools debater

Cian Luddy speaking at a Munster Schools event
Cian Luddy at a Munster Schools event
A hopefully less mortifying image of Cian Luddy.

Being able to get feedback from judges from the Philosoph at the variety of schools competitions was, for me, the cornerstone of how they helped me develop as a speaker. As people who are actively involved on the Irish debating circuit, the advice and constructive criticism they supplied was both more insightful than anything a teacher or parent could offer, and was up-to-date with the trends of thought and argument popular in Irish debating. The feedback they gave at the Cork City Schools’ Debating Competition or the Munster Mace helped enormously in developing as a speaker, and in making the transition from schools to university debating all the easier.

On a more personal level, the involvement of the Philosoph in schools’ debating development has helped me to grow as an individual. The atmosphere of confidence in your own ability to argue and communicate that they helped create contributed greatly to the development of schools debating. Their organisation of a huge number of competitions all over Munster has given me a great number of lifelong friends with a common passion for debating. Going forward, into college life, university debating and the further future, it is an experience that I am grateful for.

Contact the Schools Convenor

Contact the Philosoph's Schools Convenor with questions, comments or requests to join the programme.