World Schools Debating Championships

This section covers the planning of the schedule for the World Championships, and associated issues of which all Convenors should be aware.

There’s a great deal to fit in to the event, and Convenors must organise their timetables as they see fit – especially around the timetables of schools hosting debates. But the needs of debaters should be factored in – starting a debate too early in the morning, or bringing them back to the hotel too late at night should be avoided where possible. A typical day might start with a wake-up call at 7.00am, with breakfast from 7.30am to 8.30am, and departing from the hotel at 9.00am.

General issues[]

Balancing schedule needs[]

The World Schools Debating Championships is a prestigious international tournament, but it is also an opportunity for visitors from throughout the world to get to know your nation. It's important to provide a number of opportunities for your guests to explore the surrounds, without necessarily being accompanied by tour guides and organisers at all times. Equally, we must all remember that the majority of guests are young people, many of them under 18, so it's important to provide activities which are appropriate and interesting; even highly intelligent debaters like to have fun! Finally, you will have to consider your sponsors. It's important, of course, that they are given enough of an opportunity to sell their messages/brands as agreed with the organisers. However, if they're sensitive towards the needs of the competition, they will understand the balance to be struck and won't seek to dominate proceedings to a point where they damage their own message.

Providing the right amount of time[]

The key point here is to almost always allow more time than you think you need. Breakfast announcements, bus travel, getting through the dinner queue at a school, the arrival of dignitaries - all take longer than anticipated for a variety of reasons. The worst feeling for a Convenor is that your schedule is running away with you, that you need to rush people through a particular event in order to make up time. In general, participants do not mind hanging around for half an hour at a school if you arrive early; they do, however, start to worry when the bus breaks down and there is only 20 minutes until the debate is due to begin. Coaches will not thank you for adding shortness of time to the pressures that their debaters face.

However, there are two other issues to be aware of: first, that evening events tend to drag if there isn't much to do, and some people will probably be itching to get back half an hour after dinner is finished; it's therefore worth staggering the time that coaches leave the premises. Secondly, be sensitive to schools' needs. Give them quite a big window of arrival (e.g. "we'll be there sometime between 9.15 and 10.00am") and they will be able to cope; say that you'll be there at 10.00 but arrive at 9.30 and some will find it more difficult to cope.

Daily timetable[]

Convenors must, of course, organise their timetables as they see fit – and especially around the timetables of schools hosting debates. However, starting a debate too early in the morning, or bringing them back to the hotel too late at night should be avoided where possible. A model might be a wake-up call at 7.00am, with breakfast from 7.30am to 8.30am and departing from the hotel at 9.00am.

The Sabbath[]

Observers of the Jewish Sabbath are unable to write (and therefore effectively to debate) or travel other than on foot between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday. In practice this usually means that Israel should not be scheduled to debate on Saturday; nor should there be a break round scheduled then.

A timetable might put the Grand Final on Saturday evening, after sunset, with no other debates that day, and either have Israel sitting out on the previous Saturday (which can work if they are involved in a Round Zero) or else a rest day then. If there is only one Saturday during the tournament, you could hold preliminary debates on Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday, with a rest day on Saturday; this assumes, of course, that you can find a willing university or other venues with multiple rooms for the Sunday.


It is inevitable that during some years, the Championships will be held during the month-long period of Ramadan, during which observant Muslims cannot eat or drink anything during the hours of daylight. Ideally, it is best to avoid running the Championships during Ramadan but sometimes it may not be possible to avoid that, given the restrictions on dates during which the Championships can be held.

If a Championship must be held during Ramadan, it should be over in sufficient time for Muslim debaters, judges and supporters to be able to return home for the celebration of Eid, the special, sacred holiday at the end of Ramadan when Muslim families all over the world gather together as one.

Islam runs on a lunar calendar so Ramadan begins 11 days earlier each year on the Gregorian/Western calendar. If the championships do fall wholly or partially during Ramadan, halal food and drink will need to be provided for Muslim participants before sunrise and after sunset. If the days during the tournament are particularly long or hot, consideration may need to be given to avoiding strenuous activities or lots of travelling, and instead scheduling some debates for earlier and/or later in the day and in air conditioned or fan-cooled rooms to provide more comfort to those who can have no access to water during the day.

A simple internet search will be enough to find out when Ramadan and Eid fall in a particular year; you should also be able to find out the local times for the beginning and end of the daily fast.

Scheduling debates[]

In general, the timetable should follow that of most recent competitions – allowing for no more than two debates each day, and with a rest day somewhere among the 4 days of preliminary rounds. You also need to bear in mind the hour's preparation time necessary for impromptu debates, the time involved in travelling to the various venues, and, in schools, a welcoming ceremony (see above).

Some previous tournaments had three debates on one day. This may be manageable in organisational terms, but is tiring for speakers.

In theory, all debates at all venues should start at the same time - e.g. 2.00pm for the second debate of the day - to cut out the unlikely eventuality of supporters communicating ideas to teams that have not yet debated. This is something to bear in mind when thinking about your transport timetable, and also something that schools should be made aware of. It can create problems for some schools whose day finishes earlier than others, or whose lunch-break goes on for longer.

Experience shows that, when there is preparation to do for debates, it fills all the available time; and coaches are likely to have their teams up late at night preparing or even (unfortunately) pull them out of social events in order to study. One solution is to get the prepared debates out of the way as soon as possible (perhaps within the first 5 or 6 rounds), as this allows inexperienced speakers to find their feet with material they have prepared in advance, and means that debaters have less to worry about as the tournament progresses and are more able to mix with each other and sleep. However, school timetables may require a mix of prepared and impromptu debates, particularly if you have 'sold' them the Championships on the basis of debating workshops that take place during debate preparation time.

Judges' training session[]

This is a meeting that all judges, without exception, must attend prior to the first debates of the competition. It has become increasingly important as the World Championships rules/guidelines become more detailed, the number of judges increases with the number of competing teams, and quality assurance is a key concern of the World Schools Debating Council. You'll need to talk to the Chief Adjudicator about his/her precise demands for this training session, but it will usually take at least a whole morning, if not the whole day. Therefore, most recent tournaments have placed it on the day after official arrivals day, while debaters are off enjoying themselves on a "getting to know you" excursion.

Special events[]

There are three special events for which all Convenors need to plan particularly carefully: the Opening Ceremony, Grand Final and Closing Ceremony.

For all of these, you will need to determine who are your guests of honour (see also Patrons and Presidents), where and when to use them, who will be asked to make a speech, etc. It might be advisable to have your most prominent VIP at the Grand Final, and you may well decide to have no guests of honour at all at the final banquet so that the participants and organizers will feel free to let their hair down.

Set your sights as high as possible – up to and including the Head of State. If your prime minister or president was him/herself a prominent debater at school or university, you might find s/he will be delighted to attend the Opening or Closing Ceremony. However, the participation of such VIPs takes months of planning so you will need to begin the process well in advance. Most VIPs have their diaries booked at least a year in advance. Other prominent personalities might include the foreign minister, speaker of the parliament, university president or mayor. If you really have a very prominent personality present, you will need to inform the police for security purposes.

Opening Ceremony[]

This is the first opportunity for all of the teams to mix at one big event, and for you to welcome everybody to your country. It is usually quite short - after all there is nothing to celebrate yet. It might include music, speeches and important announcements, and can take the form of a formal or semi-formal dinner. If you are on a tight budget, though, it's probably better to splash out on your final event and to make the Opening Ceremony a less formal opportunity for everybody to mingle and chat.

Grand Final[]

This section deals with the Grand Final from the Convenor's point of view.

Another page, The Grand Final, covers the topic from the Chief Adjudicator's perspective. It may be helpful for these two people to read both pages in order to fully understand arrangements.

The final debate tends to take place in the afternoon of the last full day. It is the most important event of the whole competition, and should be held in the most prominent and important venue you can obtain – hopefully free of charge (parliament building, a national palace, state opera house etc. - see also Debate arrangements).

This is the opportunity to invite all those who have helped with the competition (with their spouses/partners), such as sponsors, contributors, school principals and key teachers, governmental and municipal officials, and student volunteers. Even more important for the future of debating in your country are federal and provincial ministers, prominent politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, leading local citizens, writers and cultural figures, diplomats from the competing countries, etc. Don’t forget to keep front row reserved seats for the ambassadors and their staff of the two countries competing in the Final. It is also important that the venue is big enough to include at least some students from each host school – particularly those who served as chairpersons, timekeepers and ushers. It is primarily this event that is going to receive coverage in the press. Your Press Officer will need to spend hours sending out and following up invitations, and contacting the local television stations and press.

As well as the debate itself, the Grand Final usually features one or two speeches from VIPs, the award of major prizes, and perhaps a musical or choral piece.

At the end, while the judges complete their ballots and retire to discuss the debate, there may be a speech or speeches to fill in the time, or the audience may be left to chatter on their own. When the speeches are complete or the judges return, the Chair of the debate should invite "a representative of the judges" onto the stage to announce the verdict. Once the lucky judge has delivered their comments and announced the winners, someone needs to take charge of the proceedings. Ordinarily the judge will return to their seat and the debate Chair will invite someone else to present the prizes. Again, this is all flexible, but everyone must know who’s doing what!

The Rules mandate that certain teams must be given prizes – the winners, runners-up and Semi-Finalists, and also the best ESL team and best EFL team. The Convenor may decide to award other prizes as well, however – best individuals, all teams in the break, etc. – and indeed some have given out certificates to all participants.

The number of prizes given out will affect how many you wish to give out at the Grand Final, where the focus should be on the two teams in the Final, and how many might be left until the Closing Ceremony.

Closing Ceremony[]

This generally takes place in the evening after the Grand Final, with a final banquet for all participants.

The Closing Ceremony will include the award of any certificates and trophies not distributed at the Grand Final. The Convenor or Chief Adjudicator may be involved in recognising best individuals (top 5? top 10? none at all?), Semi-Finalist teams and indeed all teams. You may invite people up to a podium to receive a physical award (especially those covered in Rule 19), or else simply ask them to stand and receive a round of applause.

It's worth remembering that this is the debaters' last chance to spend time with their new friends. Try to take up as little of their time as possible with ceremonial duties. One thing most participants do not like is for the evening to be dominated by the contributions of sponsors; you should keep adults' speeches to minimal length, with the emphasis on celebrating the achievements of the debaters themselves. After the dinner and prize-giving, the ceremony usually closes with a disco.


In addition to the above events, you may find it possible to arrange other receptions – for example by the mayor at the City Hall (you could consider holding the Semi-Finals at the municipality, followed by a reception); or by the ambassadors of as many of the competing countries as possible. If you hold events at local universities (like Lima 2003) these could be accompanied by receptions, or at least refreshments, given by the university administration. (Try to ensure that in such cases, any costs are covered by the municipality and the universities.)


Thought must be given to the right place in the schedule for any planned trips and excursions. There is a big advantage to having a major trip on the day before the competition so that people can get to know one another and relax before the debating begins. However, you might want to save some of the 'best bits' until later, since judges (and most coaches) will be at the training session on that day (see above).

Most tournaments have had a day off from debating to allow for tours and relaxation. It makes sense for this not to be too early. Debaters don’t need a rest after their first two debates; after Round Four (the half-way stage)or after Round Six (before the last two preliminaries) might be an appropriate day to allow everyone to recharge. There are always unplanned delays, people get lost, bags are misplaced – so the timetable should have safety margins built in where possible. A reminder: orthodox Jews cannot travel from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, so are unable to participate in any Saturday excursions.

It is also possible to plan shorter excursions in the evening; this might be an option prior to a more relaxing rest day.

Past excursions have taken in a whole range of places and events, including:

  • National parks and reserves
  • City tours on open-top buses or on foot
  • Palaces and government buildings
  • Castles and other historical sites
  • Sports matches

Evening events[]

These should occur on the majority of nights. One reason is to ensure that participants can see more of the host nation, and feel that they have had a good cultural experience before they leave. Non-debating events also help people to relax, unwind and mix socially; they also ensure that debaters are not left too much to their own devices and get into mischief, usually alcohol-related and unsupervised. The evening activities don't have to be elaborate, but all debaters should be encouraged to attend. This helps to avoid a situation where debaters at a loose end organise into cliques, rather than mixing with those from other countries.

Equally, try to discourage coaches from cloistering debaters in hotel rooms late every night to prepare for the next day's debates. When this happens, it's no wonder that debaters under-perform or crack during a crucial debate; and it seems a shame that some young people travel across the world only to see the inside of a hotel room. Many of today's World Championships judges and coaches return to the tournament having first attended as debaters, and this is usually because of the friends they made and cultural experiences they had, rather than because of the debates they won!

Evening events might include multi-cultural food samplings, traditional dancing, karaoke or games. And you can always split debaters from judges/coaches at some point: events like wine-tasting always go down well with the adults!

Particular attention should be given to the Break Night - that is, the evening after all preliminary rounds have been completed, and before the knock-out rounds begin. Most debaters like this night to be given a sense of occasion (of celebrating their achievements, as at the Closing Ceremony), so the announcement of the last 16 teams should be given a bit of a fanfare, perhaps in the context of a party. Note that it's best to get whoever is doing the announcement (usually the Chief Adjudicator) to do so from number 1 to 16, rather than in reverse order. This is because there will be a distinct lack of surprise at who has made the top 7 or 8 positions; the drama lies in the ratings of the 'middle rank' teams who may or may not have made the break.

Free time[]

Despite all of the above, it is nonetheless important to provide some free mornings, afternoons or evenings during the Championships. If teams do not use this for preparation, they might use it for "team bonding" sessions: visiting a good restaurant or local attraction at their leisure. Although it's good to have lots of organised activities, it's also important that people don't feel they are having their hands held every step of the way during the tournament. For example, it's reasonable to expect people to find their own food for 2 or 3 of the evenings, as long as it can be found easily.

World Schools Debating Council meeting[]

The annual meeting of the World Schools Debating Council always takes place at the end of the tournament, so please make sure it is properly scheduled. Usually it takes place on the morning of the last day, prior to the Grand Final, with sandwiches being served once it is over. Try to start the meeting as early as practicable - perhaps 9.00am - as the meeting always takes at least 3 hours (in Stuttgart it took 6 hours!). You need to fit one representative of every country around the table(s), boardroom style, plus the Council's Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretary. Any additional attendees should be seated around the margins of the room, usually directly behind their national representative so that they can whisper in their ear if necessary.

In the past it has been the custom for the Convenor to chair that year's meeting of the Council. However, as Grand Finals have become more elaborate in their organisation, and Council matters more varied and complex, this has changed in recent years. The Convenor usually welcomes everybody to the meeting, says a few words about the tournament, then formally passes the chairmanship to the Chair of the Council.

You do, however, need to have at least one of your organising team on standby, in case there are extra photocopies or phone calls to be made.