What began as a distant buzz has over the course of the year intensified to a thunderous statement: debating at Radley is back. After a hiatus of some years, the College’s debating society – the Radley Union – has been revived and has taken the school by storm. Tim Schmalz, Master in Charge of Debating, tells us more.

At the heart of Radley’s structure lies relationships and conversation, between boys, dons, staff, partner organisations and the wider world. It is therefore no surprise that there is genuine appetite for and skill at debating, which combines the art of public speaking, persuasive argumentation, logic and teamwork. The aim of this new chapter of the Radley Union is to encourage and develop a culture of debating across the College, involving boys and dons, to engage critically and purposefully with ideas and issues, and to challenge them to learn from and respect different views. Too often debating descends to braggadocio and bravado, but at Radley we stress and value the importance of substance, of collegiality, of listening. Debating also reinforces essay-writing strategies learned in the classroom, with emphasis on structure, clarity, the effective use of evidence, signposting, rhetoric and argument. Long employed in lessons by humanities dons, debating at the Radley Union has enabled wider participation across the school, with boys collaborating with peers in preparation for the weekly Thursday evening debates in front of the Radley community in Coffee Shop.

In addition to the regular Union debates, the College hosted two inter-Social competitions: the Senior (three-boy team from Sixth and Fifth Form, with at least one Vth per team) and the Junior (also three members from among Removes and Shells, with at least one Shell). Each competition ran over four weeks, with the final taking place during Social Prayers for the two Socials vying for the win. In Lent Term, A Social (Proposition) faced off against D Social (Opposition) over the motion ‘This House would restore the death penalty’, which saw A Social’s Mustafa (6.1), Jeff (6.1) and Blake (V) victorious. In May, L Social (Proposition) met B Social (Opposition) in the final of the Junior competition debating the motion ‘This House would under no circumstances fight for its King and country’, the famous and controversial 1933 Oxford Union debate on pacifism and patriotism, with the team from B Social of Ben (R), Edward (R) and Haozhen (S) narrowly emerging as the winner.

Enthusiasm for debating has led to recognition and success beyond Radley, as well. A team of 6.1 boys – Hyunjo (K), Zach (J) and Brayden (D) – won the English-Speaking Union’s Schools’ Mace regional final, earning Radley a bid at the national final at Dartmouth House in London over the Easter holiday. There, a reformed team of Hyunjo, Myles (D) and Blake (A) competed against the top twelve teams in the country. While we did not proceed to the grand final, vital lessons were learned, and we prepare with determination for next year. Moreover, Brayden and Arthur (F) qualified for the final of the Oxford Union Schools’ Debating Competition against the top debating teams in the world, a gauntlet of British parliamentary style debating that took place over an entire day.

With such potential for growth and development, debating at Radley constitutes one of the most dynamic and promising outcomes of the past months, and has generated such positive energy and intellectual nourishment across the College. On behalf of the school, who will surely benefit from this, I thank Ian Yorston who proved instrumental in giving debating at Radley new life. Without him, none of this would have been possible. As I inherit the reins of the Radley Union upon his imminent retirement, he has set a high bar to improve upon. What is clear, is that debating is here to stay.