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Trust gives 'Pop Idol' twist to debating competition

A debating competition with a difference has received a pound;210,000 award from the Wellcome Trust.

The Debating Matters competition brings together teams of sixth-form and FE college students from all backgrounds to debate topical issues.

Emphasising research over rhetoric, the format encourages expert judges and the audience to grill students about their ideas. The judges then give Pop Idol-style feedback before the winning team is announced.

"If you think you can just get away with empty ideas or being lazy and not being bothered to support your arguments, then you're going to get a big slap in the face," says Suzy Dean, winner of the pilot competition that held its grand final at Tate Britain in March. "The competition is the most challenging thing I've ever done. I've found it's given me much more confidence to approach adults and discuss ideas in the real world."

Alec Turner, key skills coordinator at City and Islington college, north London, and a judge in the pilot, says that the lack of a "school-type" culture has often meant FE colleges are bypassed in debating initiatives.

"There are lots of good lecturers in FE who would welcome the opportunity to start debating teams. I think Debating Matters will provide that bit of impetus that could get FE students interested in debating," he said.

The Wellcome Trust's award, to be paid over the next three years, has now secured the Pfizer-sponsored competition's further development.

Peter Finegold, education project manager at the trust, commends Debating Matters organisers, the Institute of Ideas, for "combining an independent approach with a sound public engagement strategy, offering a platform for discussion about issues that challenges dogma and appeals to young people."

Competition co-ordinator Tony Gilland says the 2005-06 competition will have heats in every region of the country. "We aim to present a unique opportunity for students to discuss contemporary issues with experts who are prepared to challenge them, rather than just pat them on the back."

For more information call Tony Gilland on: 0207 269 9229

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