A Hackney teenager has won a place on the England schools debating team and is due to attend the World Schools Debating Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, this summer.
Ife Grillo, who attends Bridge Academy in Haggerston, is the only teenager on the team to have been state-educated in a competition traditionally dominated by students educated in the private sector. He became involved with debating when Debate Mate, an organisation established to open up the sport of debating to state schools with students from lower income families, visited his school.
Grillo told Eastlondonlines: “Finding out I made the England team was one of the best days of my life. Debate Mate getting involved in my school absolutely changed my life and I owe them a lot.”
Jess Dix, a spokesperson for Debate Mate, said: “Ife is one of many who has done really well. Lots of them have got far in the competition, but obviously there are only five places. Ife stood out because he does a lot of other things on top of his debating – he’s a member of the Hackney Youth Parliament and is really involved in politics.”
The organisation states on its Twitter page that it aims to “improve social mobility through peer-to-peer debate mentoring”. Debate Mate wants to “tackle educational disadvantage” in some of the country’s most deprived communities.
Grillo is one among few students of ethnic minority ever to represent England in the World Championships. England has come first twice in the last 10 years, most recently in 2014, and winning four times in total. England has also regularly been a runner-up. The influence of Debate Mate in breaking down educational barriers has meant that in recent years they have gained serious momentum in state schools, reaching thousands of children each week.
Debate Mate told Eastlondonlines that the responses to their in-school courses have been overwhelmingly positive, with schools contacting them to get involved and then teachers recruiting students from their classes.
“Debating has always been an elitist sport,” said Dix. “Even in the private sector, it’s always been quite cliquey. What Debate Mate has done is redefine those stereotypes and made debating cool. We discuss topics students are interested in and the mentors, who are university students recruited to train at after school clubs, are all young and cool. Most young people have something to say and want their voices to be heard, regardless of their backgrounds.”
In December, the organisation was awarded a grant by the Nomura Charitable Trust to fund debating in ten schools in London, including some in Tower Hamlets.