National final of the French Debating competition 2014

The National Final of the “ joutes oratoires” (French debating competition) took place on 17 March 2014 at the French Institute in Kensington, as part of their “semaine de la Francophonie”. With 12 teams from seven different regions, we had the largest ever number of participants. We were particularly delighted to welcome the winners of two new regional competitions: the East (Stephen Perse and Perse Upper) and South London (Whitgift). Altrincham Grammar, now seasoned veterans of this competition, represented the North; the Cheltenham area was represented again by Dean Close; Wycombe Abbey and King Alfred had come top of the North London heat; Abingdon made their entrance for the West; and Central London had sent Sevenoaks (also pillars of this competition), St Paul’s (boys) and Westminster.

Teams had had only four weeks to prepare three ambitious motions:

·         Les écoles confessionnelles ne devraient pas être financées par l'argent public.

·         L'interdiction de fumer devrait  s'étendre aux logements où il y a des enfants.

·         Il serait préférable que le parlement européen siège et travaille uniquement à Strasbourg.

Debates were fierce, as usual, and we were struck by the quality of the competing teams. Fluent and idiomatic French, solid arguments supported by in depth research into the topics, honed debating skills and ability to convince with quick fire replies, humour, even panache, were qualities the jury, led by Cultural Attaché M. Yves Letournel, admired in many teams.

The new evaluation grid we were trialling, with marks out of 10 rather than 5, and no equal scores allowed, proved very successful; four teams emerged as clear victors at the end of the first round and went on to debate unprepared motions in the next round.
Stephen Perse and Whitgift faced each other in the “petite finale” on the motion: “Le cannabis devrait être légalisé”, and came 4th and 3rd, after a superb performance on both sides. The grand final was a magisterial confrontation between Westminster and Wycombe Abbey, on the motion: “Le droit de vote devrait être accordé à 16 ans”. Both teams were extremely strong, and the quality of the debate was staggering. The victory finally went to Westminster, whose excellent team had already finished as runners up last year.

The event, which took place in the Institute’s elegant first floor salons and was both festive and heated, was greatly enjoyed by all. It was an excellent opportunity for students to practise their French in a real context and meet fellow Francophiles with an interest in debating. For teachers, it was good to get to know or meet again colleagues from similar schools.
Our congratulations go to all participants, and our thanks to the Institute team, who hosted the event and adjudicated the debates, as well as to ISMLA, who sponsor us every year. Their generous contribution enabled us to present £60 book tokens to the two winners and £40 book tokens to the runners up, as well as offer refreshments.

We hope to get more and more schools to take part in French debating. The dates for next season’s regional heats should be known early in the autumn term and will be posted on the ISMLA website. For further information, you are also very welcome to contact me . I shall look forward to hearing from you.

Hélène May,
St Paul’s Girls’ School
(organiser of the Central London regional competition and coordinator of the National Final)

1. Règles des joutes oratoires
2. French debating rules and format
3. Final French debate 2014 (audio file)
4. Feedback 2014 (audio file)