SO, you think children shouldn't bunk off school to take part in climate protests, eh?

Well, there are some teenagers in York who have a bit to say about that. And quite a few of them gathered at King's Manor on Wednesday night.

Millthorpe pupils Oliver Woodward and Maisie Burrows-Hill had placards around their necks. "This world is on FIRE!" proclaimed Maisie's. Oliver's, more prosaically, announced that "Climate change is bad!"

It was Maisie who seemed truly passionate about addressing climate change. There was no point in study if there was no future to look forward to, she said. And tinkering about the edges was no good: what was needed was real action. "You wouldn't start to Hoover the stairs if the house was on fire!" she said.

Oliver, clearly out to play Devil's Advocate and wind Maisie up, pretended to be a cynic. His main reason for going on a climate change protest would be to 'get out of geography in the second period', he told his classmate. "And how can I believe the Earth is on fire when it's so cold?"

Maisie was outraged. "Don't you believe?" she said. "It affects not only us, but the entire world!" Highlighting the frustration so many young people feel at the way their voices aren't heard, she added: "Nobody knows we exist! But we're one of the most informed generations there has ever been. It's time to prove activism is not a barrier to education!"

Oliver was reluctantly won over. "You know what?" he said. "Next time I go to McDonald's, I won't get that plastic straw..."

York Press:

Devil's advocate: Oliver Woodward of Millthorpe School winds up classmate Maisie Burrows-Hill.

Welcome to the latest York secondary schools public speaking competition.

Organised by York Civic Trust, this years's event, at King's Manor on Wednesday evening, saw 18 pupils from nine York secondary schools going head to head to debate the hottest topics of the day in front of York's first citizen, Lord Mayor Janet Looker.

The children took to the podium in pairs to debate their chosen topic. And the most popular issue of the day was the climate protests.

Greta Thunberg was cited as an inspiration. And the overall feeling that it was right for children to miss the odd day of school to take part in the protests.

Children were not old enough to have a say in the election, pointed out Charla Banks from The Mount School. "The only way we can affect what politicians think is to protest!" Her classmate Beatrice Gugliuzza agreed. In a few years, the effects of climate change would be irreversible, she said. "Something has to change!"

Not all the children agreed that taking time off school to join the protests was the right thing to do.

Gracie Walker and Ruby Swindlehurst from York High argued that if they were really interesting in making a difference, children were better off staying in school and concentrating on getting a good education. "To get into politics, and to be able to make change, you have to be educated!" Gracie said.

Vale of York Academy's Charlotte Judson shared their scepticism about the protests. "Why are children going on them? Is it just peer pressure?" she asked.

Definitely not, her classmate Tilly Dawson replied. "Children understand that they will have to live with the consequences!" she said. "We're the ones who have to make change." Which should be enough to make any grown-up politician feel ashamed...

The climate protests weren't the only topic up for debate on Wednesday night. Kaia Stainton and Sophia Suddaby from Joseph Rowntree School had a discussion about whether the arts or the sciences had contributed more to modern day York. Their conclusion? Both had contributed in their own, different ways. That was illustrated in the life of one of York's greatest sons, said Kaia. "Joseph Rowntree, through his life, contributed to both science and the arts." Sophia agreed. "He proved they can work together," she said.

Joseph Rowntree also featured in the other hot topic for debate on the evening: the question of why so many men and so few women in York had been celebrated in their own times and remembered by history.

Manor School's Millie Smith and Katarina Savkovic reeled off a list of prominent York figures: Guy Fawkes, Joseph Rowntree, the epidemiologist Dr John Snow...

"I've just noticed!" said Katarina. "Where are the women?"

York Press:

Where are the women? Katarina Savkovic and Millie Smith of Manor School.

The pair agreed that throughout much of history, burdened by outdated views of the role of women, lack of education, and the rigours of childbirth, women just hadn't had the chance to carve out high profile careers for themselves.

But that didn't mean there weren't strong, determined women - women like the York suffragette Annie Seymour Pearson, who was briefly sent to prison for obstructing the police during a demonstration for women's right to vote. "Disgraceful!" said Katarina. "You go girl!" said Millie.

Maya Lindridge and Effie Dodds-Aston from Bootham School agreed that throughout most of history, women either had to be a queen (like Elizabeth I), a revolutionary (like Annie Seymour Pearson) or a woman determined to break the chains of tradition (like Mary Tuke, founder of a chocolate dynasty) if they were to have any chance of being noticed.

Seth Roodhouse and Anselm Tullocj from All Saints pointed out that there had been important women in York millennia ago - women like the 'ivory bangle lady', buried in a Roman grave with expensive jewellery that indicated her high status.

But it was only in the last 100 years that real progress had been made, they said. Nancy Astor became the first woman MP in 1919 - 100 years on (and depending on the result of the next election) there are more than 200 women MPs, York's own Rachael Maskell among them. "But what will the future hold for the women of York?" they asked. Only time will tell...

For Sophia Matravers and Antonia Geldard of Archbishop Holgate's School, what really mattered was not someone's sex, but what they had achieved.

York Press:

It's not about gender - its about what you do, argue Antonia Geldard and Sophia Matravers of Archbishop Holgate's School

There had been plenty of great men and women in York's long history, they said - Constantine the Great, Seebohm Rowntree and the astronomer John Goodricke among the men, Ann Lister, Edna Annie Crichton (York's first female Lord Mayor) and Judy Dench among the women.

"But it's not about whether you're male or female. It's about what you do!" Antonia said.

Sophia agreed. "You know what?" she said. "When we think about significant people in York, let's not let our gender define us!"

That seems very sensible...


The judging panel agreed that all the speakers were winners. "This event just keeps getting better and better," said head judge Darrell Buttery. "But the judges agreed that this year was by far the best."

But it was a speaking competition, Mr Buttery added, so they had to choose a winner, hard as it was.

In third place came Millie Smith and Katarina Savkovic of Manor School, in second Maisie Burrows-Hill and Oliver Woodward of Millthorpe.

And the winners were... Mr Buttery paused for a heartbeat. "Archbishop Holgate's, Sophia Matravers and Antonia Geldard!"

York Press:

Antonia Geldard and Sophia Matravers of Archbishop Holgate's School receive their winners' certificates from Lord Mayor Janet Looker