Great Debate 2023: Winners Announced

By Paula Kitching, published 27th March 2023

The Historical Association is delighted to announce the winners of our Public Speaking Competition the Great Debate 2023:


  • Lucy Williams of Cheadle Hulme High School, Cheadle

Runners up:

  • Ella Saxton of Bishop Luffa C of E School, West Sussex
  • William Wale of Leicester Grammar School, Leicester
  • Xandriana Watson of South Chingford Foundation School, Waltham Forest

Highly Commended:

  • Blake Low of Bloxham School, Oxfordshire
  • Rowan Ross of Belfast Model School for Girls
  • Catherine Saunders of Redmaids High School, Bristol

28 students aged between 15 to 18 years took part in the final, following months of heats held across the country. They all came together on Saturday 25 March at the Vicars' Hall, Windsor Castle. They each had five minutes to answer the question:

Why does history matter to me?

The students needed to demonstrate research as well as coherent historical arguments.

Across the course of the day the judges and audience listened to talks on the personal experiences of finalists’ relatives in the past; important social movements such as Women’s rights and battles against racism; the impact of empire and colonialism; key figures from history, including scientists and social campaigners; key events from across the globe such as the Algerian war of independence, the recent World Cup final, the war in the Ukraine and the Spanish Civil War.

Students do not use props or slides of any kind and rely entirely upon how well they present their argument demonstrating their research, and full understanding of their chosen topic and its wider impact. The judges ask at least one relevant question of the  students at the end of each talk. 

The judges, Professor Peter Mandler, Cambridge University (HA President), Dr Alison Kitson, Associate Professor of Education at UCL (HA Deputy President) and Professor Claire Langhammer, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, had the difficult task of deciding upon the winners, something very few others in the room would have wanted to do as the standard was exceptional.

This year’s winner argued that history had provided her with an opportunity to learn about other people’s experiences, life, customs and ideas. She demonstrated how the study of history can be a tool to engage with others as well as providing her with knowledge to explore different people’s identity and attitudes.

Our warmest congratulations are extended to all those who took part, all of whom provided incredibly strong and full arguments. The talks were all recorded and will be available on the HA website in the next few months.

The Great Debate 2024

The question for the 2024 competition is:

Which historical place or person from your local area deserves greater recognition?

In this question we want you to explore the local history of your area or region in all of its diversity or singularity to identify a person or place that has contributed to the world that we live in today and should be better known. 

They could be people who were once famous but are now forgotten, or were never famous because their social status, gender, religion or ethnicity meant that they or their actions were marginalised; it may be someone lesser known from your locality who went on to do great things in another country or vice versa. You might want to identify a building where once the great discussions of the land were held; a market town whose economic standing and importance has changed over the years; a dock that once sent and received goods and people from all over the world; the terraced house that became Britain’s first mosque or a village green where a social reformer honed their political speeches.

Anything is possible, as long as it reflects the relationship between local history and any big picture or broad histories and where you can find evidence that the person or place the history is tied to really did exist. 

The next Great Debate will start with heats in November 2023. Schools are encouraged to check the HA website and communications for updates on heats and the timing for the final.