About the Competition

Competition structure

County contests

National finals

The rules

Judging criteria

Judging videos



The 2015 search for a new Poetry By Heart national champion starts Saturday 28th June 2014. Schools/colleges must register to participate (even if they took part last year) via the registration link on the home page of this website, by email info@poetrybyheart.org.uk or by phone 0117 905 5338.


School/college contests


School/college contests can take place any time during the Autumn term. As long as at least three students in Years 10-13 compete to become Poetry By Heart school/college champion, it counts as a contest. We welcome all sizes and shapes of event, from a lunchtime play-off to a grand gala evening with parents, governors and local media involved. It’s as big or small as suits your school! In this round, students must recite two poems, one published before 1914, and one published in or after 1914. These must be selected from the Poetry By Heart timeline on this website.


County contests


Each Poetry By Heart school/college champion is entitled to a place in their county contest. School/college organisers need to confirm which student will be entering this next round, and with which poems, by 9th January 2015.  In this round, students will be asked to recite three poems: one published before 1914 AND one published in or after 1914 AND one taken from our special 2014 showcase collection of World War I poems. The pre and post 1914 poems may be the same as recited in the school/college contest, or different, but they must be selected from the Poetry By Heart timeline on this website. The World War I poem must be selected from the Poetry by Heart World War I collection.


Regional semi-finals and national finals


The winner of each county contest (or the runner-up if the winner can’t progress to the next round for any reason) will be invited to compete at the Winners’ Weekend at Homerton College, Cambridge, Thursday 19th March to Saturday 21st March 2015. The event will progress through a series of regional semi-finals, in which the Poetry By Heart county champions battle for a place in the grand final on Saturday afternoon.  Students are accompanied throughout the expenses-paid weekend by a teacher from their school, and everyone gets to enjoy an additional programme of activities in Cambridge, including meeting the poet judges. On Saturday afternoon, the 2015 Poetry By Heart national champion will be crowned!



Our regional contest dates and locations will be announced here very soon – they will take place from mid-January to mid-February.


19-21 March 2015


Homerton College, Cambridge

There will be more details to follow soon. We hope to see you there!


Here’s what happened at the 2014 National Finals…

13-15 March 2014


National Portrait Gallery, London


Poetry By Heart winners’ weekend 2014

Poetry By Heart Has a New Champion

Matilda Neill (17) from Tyne & Wear is the new Poetry By Heart Champion for 2014.

Reciting three poems in front of a highly appreciative audience at the National Portrait Gallery in London Matilda triumphed at the end of a search for a champion that began six months ago with hundreds of students taking part in school competitions up and down the country.

In presenting her with a specially designed trophy the Chair of the judging panel Sir Andrew Motion commented, “Matilda is the unanimous choice of the judges who have been greatly impressed by the sincerity and authenticity of her recitations. Matilda has truly taken these poems to her heart and shared them with us today in a way that is both beautiful and moving.”

Matilda, who hopes to study English Literature at University after taking a Gap Year said, “It has been an amazing experience to be part of such a fantastic celebration of poetry. The poems I chose to recite meant a lot to me and I loved exploring the sounds of the words and the relationship between sound and meaning in the poems.”

Matilda recited: “The Way Through the Woods” by Rudyard Kipling; “In Memoriam” by Michael Longley and “Explaining Magnetism” by Maura Dooley.

46 county competition winners gathered at St Martin-in-the-Fields on Thursday evening (March 13th) for a dinner and poetry reading by poets Jean Sprackland and Sir Andrew Motion before the semi-final stage of the competition began in the Ondaatje Wing Theatre of the National Portrait Gallery on Friday (March 14th). In addition to watching fellow competitors recite, students enjoyed a range of activities including tours of some of the portrait galleries, visits to Broadcasting House, an open top bus tour of London including a visit to Poets’ Corner and a dinner on Friday evening at Planet Hollywood.

Matilda and seven other finalists recited in front of a distinguished panel of judges from the world of poetry including Sir Andrew Motion, Jean Sprackland, Daljit Nagra, Patience Agbabi, Glyn Maxwell and Tim Dee. The M.C. for the Regional Semi-Finals which took place on Friday and Saturday morning was the poet Jacob Sam-La Rose whilst the National Final on Saturday afternoon was hosted by poet and presenter of “Poetry Please” (Radio 4), Roger McGough. “Poetry Please” recorded material from the final for a future edition of the programme.

Second place in the final went to Ben Westerby (15) from London whilst third place was awarded to Logan Jones (15) of Bedfordshire. Their fellow finalists were Eden Hildreth (Buckinghamshire), Ellie MacDonald (Dorset), Olufeyikewa Popoola (London), Mary Flanagan (Lancashire) and Rachael Maltby (Worcestershire).



These rules will apply throughout the competition.  If you are in any doubt, talk to us at info@poetrybyheart.org.uk, on 0117 905 5338, or via Twitter @poetrybyheart and Facebook facebook.com/poetrybyheartcompetition.


Student eligibility


1. School registration

Only schools and colleges that register with Poetry By Heart by 9 January 2015 are eligible to send their competitors forward to the county round of the competition. Use the registration link on the home page of this website, or email info@poetrybyheart.org.uk, or phone 0117 905 5338.

2. Year group

Only students currently enrolled in Years 10, 11, 12 or 13 are eligible for progression to county Poetry By Heart competitions.

3. Progression

A student may not advance to the county round without competing in a lower-level competition at school or college.


Poem selection


4. Anthology

All poems MUST be selected from the Poetry By Heart anthology available on this website.

5. School or college-wide competition

Students must perform 2 poems from the Poetry By Heart anthology – one published before 1914 AND one published in or after 1914. If this is preceded by in-class or year-group heats, one poem may be recited in this round, with two poems recited in the school or college championship.

6. County contest

Students must prepare to perform 3 poems. 2 of these must be from the main Poetry By Heart timeline anthology – one published before 1914 AND one published in or after 1914 AND. These may be the same poems as performed in the school-wide competition, or different. The 3rd poem must be from the showcase of World War 1 poems.

7. Regional and national finals.

Students must perform 3 poems from the Poetry By Heart anthology – one published before 1914 AND one published in or after 1914 AND one from the showcase of World War 1 poems.  These may be the same poems as performed in the county contest, or different. Students should be mindful in their selection of the increasing level of challenge and competition at this stage.




8. Valid contests

For a contest to be valid in any round of the competition, at least 3 students must compete against each other.

9. Number of winners

ONE winner only should be selected to progress to the next round. If that champion is unable to attend the next round, the runner-up should be sent. Please keep the Poetry By Heart team informed of all changes.

10. Judging criteria

Students must be judged fairly at all stages of the competition according to the Poetry By Heart judging criteria available in the Organiser’s handbook and on this website.

11. Scoring

Judges in all phases of the competition must use the official scoring sheets to evaluate each performance. These scores should be added together at the end of the contest to provide a basis for agreeing the winner and runner up. Judges must not discuss performances or scores during the contest and should retire to discuss the cumulative scores before announcing the winner.

12. Tie-breaks

In the event of a tie, or judges not being able to announce a clear winner, the top-performing students must recite 1 poem again for a separate tie-break score.

13. Props

Students may not use props, music or costumes during their recitations. Students should note that winning performances are unlikely to involve dramatic re-enactment.



Student performances in all rounds of the competition must be judged and scored using these criteria.  Please note that these have changed slightly from the criteria used in 2013.

Voice and articulation 1-6 points

This category is to evaluate the auditory nature of the recitation.  Consider the student’s volume, pace, rhythm, intonation and pronunciation.  In a strong performance, all words are pronounced appropriately in the student’s natural accent and the volume, rhythm and intonation greatly enhance the recitation.  Pacing is appropriate to the poem.

Evidence of understanding 1-6 points

This category is to evaluate whether the student exhibits an understanding of the poem is his or her recitation.  A strong performance relies on a powerful internalisation of the poem rather than distracting dramatic gestures.  In a strong performance, the meaning of the poem is powerfully and clearly conveyed to the audience.  The student displays an interpretation that deepens and enlivens the poem.  Meaning, messages, allusions, irony, tones of voice and other nuances are captured by the performance.  A low score is awarded if the interpretation obscures the meaning of the poem or makes use of affected character voices and accents, inappropriate tone and inflection, singing, distracting and excessive gestures, or unnecessary emoting.

Level of difficulty 1-6 points

This category is to evaluate the comparative difficulty of the poem, which is the result of several factors.  A poem with difficult content conveys complex, sophisticated ideas, that the student will be challenged to grasp and express.  A poem with difficult language will have complexity of diction and syntax, metre and rhyme scheme, and shifts in tone or mood.  Poem length is also considered in difficulty but bear in mind that longer poems are not necessarily more difficult than shorter ones.  Judges may also consider the diversity of a student’s recitations with this score; a student is less likely to score well in this category when judges note that a student’s style of interpretation remains the same regardless of poem choice or challenge.

Overall performance 1-8 points

This category is to evaluate the overall success of the performance, the degree to which the recitation has become more than the sum of its parts.  Has the student captivated the audience with the language of the poem?  Did the student bring the audience to a better understanding of the poem?  Did the contestant’s physical presence enhance the recitation, engaging the audience through appropriate body language, confidence and eye contact?  Does the student understand and show mastery of the art of recitation?  The judges will use this score to measure how impressed they were by the recitation, and whether the recitation has honoured the poem.   A low score will be awarded for recitations that are poorly presented, ineffective in conveying the meaning of the poem, or conveyed in a manner inappropriate to the poem.

Accuracy 1-4 marks

A separate judge will mark missed or incorrect words during the recitation. Students will score a full 4 marks for a word-perfect recitation; 3 for a small number of errors which do not significantly affect meaning and/or flow; 2 for a recitation where the errors do affect meaning and/or flow; 1 for a recitation where occasional use is made of the prompter; 0 for a recitation which requires considerable prompting.


Sir Andrew Motion talks to us about his thoughts on Poetry By Heart, his experiences of judging and the criteria!

Andrew Motion’s Judging Guidelines from Poetry By Heart on Vimeo.