Musical pitch delivers debating final place for Rebecca


For the second year running a Sydenham High Year 11 debater has won a place in the final of the GDST Chrystall Prize competition, after a close fought semi-final involving four other GDST schools.

Rebecca O’Connor’s impassioned and cogently argued speech that music is still a force for social criticism, and indeed needs to be, saw her win the day.

She beat off strong competition from the top debaters from Bromley High, Croydon High, Blackheath High and Sutton High. The runner-up was Zoe Hadsell from Blackheath High who delivered a strong argument that great apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, deserve the same rights as humans.

The Chrystall Prize is an annual public speaking event for Year 11 students, held in memory of Chrystall Carter who was Legal Adviser to the Girls’ Day School Trust for nine years until her untimely death in 1999.  It was set up by her husband to mark her commitment to the girls, her pleasure in their success and her belief in the power of reasoned argument.

Contestants have to speak for a maximum of seven minutes on their chosen topic, with an additional three minutes of questions from the audience of students and teachers. The debaters are judged on their understanding of the subject matter, their ability to engage with their audience and their skill at dealing with questions.

Rebecca unanimously won over the panel of three independent adjudicators: Gaynor Stocker, the former Head of English at Wallington High School for Girls; Mia Ball, a LAMDA examiner of many years standing, and Laura Hyde a professional actor.

All schools put forward their top Year 11 debaters who attended the event with their support team of writers and researchers.  Rebecca’s team comprised classmates: Tara Snowley, Annabelle Simmonds, Jade Lucas and Luna Oritz Merzweiler.

After her win, a delighted Rebecca said: “The Chrystall Prize is something that I have wanted to do since watching Alex’s performance in the competition last year, so the fact that I’m now going into the final is a huge personal achievement for me! I’ve learnt a lot over the course of the competition, and I really recommend it to anyone interested in debating, public affairs, and writing.”

Danielle Feehan, Head of English, said: “Debate and public speaking skills are integral aspects of the English curriculum and co-curriculum at Sydenham High. They are enormously important in shaping the confidence of young people, empowering them to talk with reason and understanding on pertinent social issues, whilst developing the research and analytical skills needed for success in later life.”

Congratulating Rebecca, Acting Headteacher Karl Guest said: “Rebecca’s accomplished performance has taken her through to the finals of this challenging competition and we couldn’t be prouder. The power of communication is a key skill – so vital as our students prepare for life at university and beyond.”

The Chrystall Prize final will take place next month.

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