Poetry By Heart 2019-20 Competition

It’s fun, it’s free, it’s a national poetry recitation competition for pupils in England.

Poetry By Heart is a national poetry recitation competition for schools in England. It is for primary school pupils aged 7-11 (key stage 2) and secondary school pupils aged 11-14 (key stage 3), 14-16 (key stage 4) and 16+ (key stage 5). There are 2 different competition options: individual recitation, and group/choral recitation. Pupils choose their poems from a selection available on the Poetry By Heart website. The timeline anthologies and poetry showcases there are designed to support wide-ranging exploration of poems and poets, as well as offering connections with the national curriculum for English and its GCSE assessment.

By taking part in Poetry By Heart pupils explore poetry widely. They find poems they like, learn them by heart and perform them to others.

The heart of the competition is in the school or college. There have to be at least 3 pupils competing in any key stage within the competition rules but the format is flexible so you can adapt it to suit the pupils in your school. It’s all about listening to each pupil sharing a poem they’ve chosen, and listening to others do the same, and the fun and excitement of the  special occasion of the school/college event.

To get started, encourage everyone in a class or year group or form group to give it a go with just one poem. That way you can find out who rises to the challenge, enjoys it, is good at it or simply has great courage and commitment! Once you have 3 or more pupils like that in a key stage you can get your school competition under way, with these pupils then learning their second poem.

After that, school/college competition winners can be entered for the county, regional and national phases of the competition, culminating in a prestigious live national finals event will take place in March 2020, hosted by the Poetry Society and judged by top poets.

When is the 2019-20 competition taking place?

The school/college round of the 2019-20 Poetry By Heart competition will run from 1st November 2019 through to Valentine’s Day on 14th February 2020. Schools/colleges can hold their competition at any time in this period. Those wishing to enter their school/college key stage winner(s) for the national rounds of the competition must submit a video of their winner’s performance for judging by midnight on 14th February 2020. The all expenses paid national finals event will take place in London in March 2020. More details to follow!

Who can take part and how do we enter?

Competition entry is open to pupils aged 7-19 in primary, secondary and further education in England. All competition entries are via schools, colleges and recognised education establishments (eg PRUs, hospital education units, etc). All competition correspondence is with the school/college organiser who is a member of staff, usually a teacher or school librarian. Schools/colleges need to register to take part here and to receive the competition starter kit. It’s all free!

What are the competition categories?

Pupils in each key stage can take part in the school competition with an individual recitation or they can work with others to create a group/choral recitation.

In the national competition, in each key stage we will select up to 50 county champions in the individual recitation category; from these 50, the judges will select regional champions to compete at the national finals event for the Poetry By Heart national poetry recitation crown. We will also select the very best group/choral recitation in each key stage to perform at the national finals event.

If you want to have a Poetry By Heart event that doesn’t fit our categories because you want to adapt the activity more specifically to your pupils, there is a special Poetry Celebration option.

And there is also a competition for school staff – any staff role, any poem on the website! We’re looking to find three national champions!

Which poems do the pupils learn?

To be eligible for the national competition in the group/choral recitation category, pupils in all key stages learn any ONE poem from the age-specific Poetry By Heart collections or poetry showcases.

To be eligible for the national competition in the individual recitation category, pupils in all key stages must learn TWO poems from the age-specific Poetry By Heart collections or poetry showcases, one poem published before 1914 and one poem published after 1914.

Poems explainer v2

Pupils in key stage 4 may, if they wish, recite ONE of their GCSE anthology poems if it is in the Poetry By Heart age-specific timeline or one of the poetry showcases. Use the GCSE filter function one the website homepage to find out what we have for your awarding body.

How do we get a school competition started?

It only takes 3 pupils to have a key stage competition – but you can, of course, make it as large as you like! Poetry By Heart’s previous regional and national champions have come from both large and small competitions. As long as you follow the Poetry By Heart competition rules and judging guidance, it’s up to you.

Some schools/colleges run Poetry By Heart as a lunchtime or after school club for pupils who like poetry. Others challenge form groups, classes or year groups. Some open the competition to the whole school! Try what you think will work for you, your pupils, your school – and tell US what works best in primary (this is new!).

Teachers have told us their top tips for getting pupils involved.

Find someone in school/college who can already recite a poem they love (any poem!) and get them to share that to inspire pupils to try it. They feel the power and get inspired!

Find a poem you love! Read it aloud and share why you like it. Encourage pupils to do the same as their first step. The real key to it all is finding a poem you WANT to have in your heart.

Learn a short poem together, teacher too. Let them see your journey, let them share it, let them enjoy it as they remember the lines easily and you forget them immediately!

Set pupils the challenge of learning ONE poem from the Poetry By Heart age-specific collections first. See who takes to it and who wants to have a go at learning a second one for your school competition.

School/college competitions are organised by school staff. Competition coordinators are often English and drama teachers, literacy coordinators and school librarians though this is not a requirement – it’s up to you!

How much time does this take?

Teachers tell us their pupils can generally learn a poem in a week or two if they set their mind to it, though they usually take a little longer after they’ve memorised it to craft their performance. Pupils say this is the most rewarding part of the process.

As for your school competition, we would allow 4 minutes per pupil per poem for the recitation, judging and spaces to allow pupils to come on and off stage and to settle themselves.

What is the judging process?

School/college competitions must be judged following the Poetry By Heart judging criteria and process. The same criteria are used in all phases of the national competition. To judge your school/college competition you must have:

A performance judge – a small competition can easily be judged by one adult eg a teacher, librarian or any other poetry-loving member of the school/college community. The judge must be prepared by reading through our judging criteria and making sure they know how to fill in the score sheet. The judge must sit at the front where they can see and hear the pupil easily. The performance score sheet is in your competition pack.

An accuracy judge/prompter – one person can double up as accuracy judge and prompter, although it is often easier to have two people. They will need a copy of the poems that are being recited so they can follow along and note accuracy issues on the accuracy score sheet. This person needs to sit at the front too. Pupils can be instructed that if they want a prompt they should signal to this person. Usually pupils just need a word or two to help them recover. The accuracy score sheet is in your competition pack.

A scorer – this person collects the score sheets form the judges and adds them up. They record all the pupils’ scores on the score totaliser sheet. The scores are used as guidance to support the judgement of the overall winner, though discretionary discussion by the judging team is valid too. The scorer is responsible for making sure that only ONE winner is selected. The score totaliser is in your competition pack.

Some schools/colleges invite a VIP judge too but always make sure you appoint a Chair of the judging panel who properly understands the Poetry By Heart judging criteria and rules and will make sure they are applied fairly and consistently. Some examples of VIP judges might include local poets and writers, PGCE tutors, your mayor or MP, a county librarian, or any other poetry-loving person appropriate to your school/college.

If you have a big competition or a bigger audience, you might like to have an MC. They can make sure everyone feels comfortable, the competition runs smoothly and there is a sense of occasion.

You might also want to have a photographer so that you can share pictures on your school/college website or with your local newspaper, as long as the pupils are comfortable with this and you have appropriate permissions.

What are the judging criteria?

Poetry by Heart is a poetry recitation competition rather than a drama competition: we are inviting young people to talk the poem rather than to give a theatrical performance.

To make sure that the competition is fair, we have designed criteria in four categories against which each recitation will be judged and scored.

The four categories are Voice, Understanding, Presentation and Accuracy. A maximum total of 25 points can be awarded across these categories, which are set out in the Poetry By Heart scoring sheet.

Voice, scored from 1 – 7 points

In a strong recitation, all the words are pronounced appropriately in the young person’s natural accent and the volume, rhythm, speed and stress on different phrases all contribute to the overall effect.

Understanding, scored from 1-7 points

Do you think the young person understands the words they are speaking and the overall mood and meaning of the poem? When a young person has truly understood a poem, their recitation will clearly and powerfully communicate the meaning to the audience.

The young person will talk the poem, relying on the words themselves, and their arrangement on the page in the unique way the poet has expressed her or himself. Talking the poem in this way in their natural accent, there will be no need to exaggerate the words by distracting dramatic gestures, singing or exaggerated emotions (although some poem choices will have scope for a more dramatic delivery than others).

Presentation, scored from 1-7 points

This category considers the overall success of the recitation. Has the recitation honoured the poem by captivating the audience with its language and meaning? Did the young person appear confident, seek eye-contact with the audience and use appropriate body language?

Accuracy, maximum of 4 points

This is a technical assessment of the recitation where 4 marks are given for a word-perfect recitation; 3 for a small number of errors which do not affect the meaning and smooth-flowing of the poem; 2 where the errors do affect the meaning and smooth flowing of the poem; 1 where the young person needs to ask for a prompt every now and then; 0 where the young person needs to ask for a prompt frequently.

What will we do if two or more young people get very close scores?

If two entries get the same score, the variety of poems the young person has chosen to recite and the difficulty of the poem can be used as tie-breakers. Has the young person chosen poems with different moods, language styles, voices or historical settings? Have they chosen poems with difficult ideas that are hard to express or perhaps poems where the language is difficult to say in a vivid way which makes the meaning clear? The length of the poems is less relevant in that a long poem can be very straightforward to say whereas a short one can be very complicated. In the case of a tie, the young person who has been versatile and ambitious is likely to edge ahead, not the one who has chosen the longest poems.

Choral recitations

We have not offered group choral recitations before; we encourage you to adapt the general principles in Poetry By Heart’s judging criteria. As a school or college, you will have your own emphases and approaches to judging and you will want to reward particular efforts made by the pupils and students you know.

Contact the Poetry By Heart office for further guidance about the judging process.

Are there certificates?

Yes! These will be available for school/college organisers to download from the Teaching Zone very soon. If you need one sooner, get in touch info@poetrybyheart.org.uk or 0117 905 5338. We can also provide Poetry By Heart bookplates if you want to give book prizes to your school competition winners.

How do we enter the national competition?

To go forward to the national competition stages, you need to have had a school competition event with at least 3 pupils competing in each key stage you wish to enter, and you must have selected ONE winner in each key stage. Each of those contestants must have recited TWO poems from the age-specific Poetry By Heart timeline anthologies and poetry showcases, one published before 1914 and one published after 1914.  You can enter pupils for the national competition in one or more key stages.

Once you have your key stage winner(s), you simply make a video of their performance and upload it to our secure Poetry By Heart online judging system by midnight on 14th February 2020. We’ll send all registered schools information about this when it is live. Or send your video file to us by another arrangement agreed with the Poetry By Heart office. Videos of school winners’ performances will be judged by an experienced Poetry By Heart panel of poets and educators to choose the county winners and regional winners for each key stage competition.

If your school/college winner is invited to compete or perform at the national finals event, they will need to be accompanied by a responsible adult. It is expected that this will ordinarily be a teacher or other staff member from the pupil’s school/college.

Our school is not in England – can we take part?

The Poetry By Heart competition is funded for schools in England. We are happy to talk to teachers from further afield about how to set up your own competitions on the Poetry By Heart model. Schools in Ireland, Jamaica, South Africa, USA, Canada and France can enter similar competitions – get in touch for details. And if you’re in Wales, you don’t need us to tell you about over 200 years of Eistedfodd experience!

Still have questions?
Talk to the Poetry By Heart team for advice about any aspect of your Poetry By Heart competition, or about Poetry By Heart’s poetry resources.


0117 905 5338