Talk of the town: Debating pair talk their way to the top


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WORD OF MOUTH: The talented debaters made quite an impression in their first national debating competition together, pictured: Gemma Timmons and Sanjana Gunasekaran

WORD OF MOUTH: The talented debaters made quite an impression in their first national debating competition together, pictured: Gemma Timmons and Sanjana Gunasekaran

Two talkative students from Leeds have shown they certainly have a way with words this month after being named as the best school debaters outside of London in their first national competition.

Sanjana Gunasekaran and Gemma Timmons are sixth form students at The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL) who only teamed up as a debating pair in September.

They entered Lancaster University’s national schools debating competition in early November, where 24 experienced debating teams from schools across the country discussed the burning issues of the day.

With the motion only revealed 15 minutes before each debate, competitors had to think on their feet, debating topics ranging from feminism to nuclear weapons and plastic surgery.

Each team, including five from GSAL, took part in four debates before the top four teams progressed to the grand final.

In the grand final Gemma and Sanjana took on Westminster School to debate the resignation of David Cameron as prime minister after Brexit.

Although the judges declared Westminster the winners by a narrow points margin, the GSAL team can be proud to rank as the top school team outside the capital.

Gemma only got involved in debating as a Year 11 student, and competed regularly with her previous teammate. She said: “It’s a while since we broke into a grand final so it was an amazing day at Lancaster. It was great to have the whole GSAL team supporting us.”

Sanjana took up debating ‘out of sheer curiosity’ in Year 7, and found she loved it.

She added: “Debating encourages you to think about subjects you might not otherwise consider and structure your arguments.

“It increases your confidence and ability to speak fluently and without notes, all in a supportive team environment.”

Gemma agrees on the value of debating, saying: “It’s a skill for life, developing your ability to communicate and clarify your thinking - you don’t choose whether you oppose or propose the motion, whatever your own views are.

“It’s also a great way to meet new people and has become a big part of my life at school.”

Both girls are keen to promote the benefits of debating and are running a novice debating competition at school next week, involving pupils from many local schools.

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