Grand Finalists: Dame Allan’s public speaking team among the best Nationwide

THE Schools’ talented public speaking team travelled to Cambridge to represent the North-East in the Grand Final of a prestigious National competition.

Speaker Arwen Jenkins, questioner Imogen Golding-Douglass, chair Ben Patrick, and team reserve Nasif Chowdhury, formed one of 13 teams to reach the final of the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition, the largest contest of its kind, attracting some 400 teams from across England and Wales.

During their visit to the University of Cambridge, the Year 11 pupils met with Allanians Virginia Barbour and Geordie Cheetham, former Head Girl and Head Boy at Dame Allan’s Schools in 2019 - 20, and both keen public speakers.

Accompanied by English teacher Victoria Ward, Head of Lower School (DAGS), the team enjoyed a tour of two colleges on the Saturday, before taking part in the competition at Churchill College, on Sunday, 8th May.

Ms Ward said: “It has been an honour to coach this team and accompany them to such a prestigious competition. They have made outstanding progress since they first started coming to the Schools’ Debating Club, the birthplace of our public speaking team!”

Arwen chose the topic: ‘People should be allowed to die with dignity’, opening her speech with Hamlet’s musings of Act V Scene ii, and balancing it with scientific research, personal experience and humour.

Ms Ward said: “Arwen impressed the audience and judges with her intelligent, well-informed, and empathetic exploration of this challenging topic.”

Ben and Imogen were paired with a speaker whose topic considered: ‘Is cloning humans inevitable?’ Judges praised Ben for his professional, approachable and humorous style, and commended Imogen for her thoughtful, yet challenging approach to questioning.

Reflecting on the event, Ben said: “I am so proud of the performance we gave in the final and even though it could be slightly nerve-wracking, I speak for everyone when I say we truly came into our element when it was our turn to speak, and we had great fun.”

The competition is open to students in Years 9 – 11, and Arwen has since signed up to become a Young Member of the ESU, enabling her to further develop her oracy skills and mentor others.

Both Arwen and Imogen are keen to encourage younger DAS pupils to get involved. Arwen said:  “From the preparations to actually performing, each and every skill is tested and this whole experience has been a massive learning curve.”

University of Cambridge students Virginia and Geordie gave the pupils a tour of the local area, including the iconic King’s College Chapel and Bridge, and St John’s College.

Geordie, who is reading History and French at Cambridge, said: “The confidence public speaking gives you certainly helps at university. When you listen to lecturers every day, you can really tell when someone is a confident public speaker and it makes you much more interested in their message.”

Dame Allan’s Schools first entered teams into the annual ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition in 2019. This year was the most successful yet, with ‘Team A’ reaching the second round and ‘Team B’ attending the Grand Final.

Imogen added: “It’s a monumental achievement for the Schools as a whole, and well-deserved recognition of the brilliant public speaking teams within Dame Allan’s. It was an honour to compete in such a prestigious competition.

“A special thank you must go to Ms Ward for always going above and beyond in her encouragement and guidance.”