About the Competition

Tell us what you think

Hear From The Students

There's still time!


Andrew Motion

National finals

Judging criteria

Essentials for 2015-16

Competition structure

Let us know what you think of Poetry By Heart (and win a prize!)


Now that the schools and colleges round of Poetry By Heart 2015-16 has concluded, we would like your feedback on the experience (even if you did not hold a competition we would like to know why). We would be very grateful if you could take 10 minutes to complete this survey that looks at your experience of this year’s Poetry By Heart competition and invites your suggestions for how we can develop further. We are interested in your comments and evaluation about any aspect of this year’s competition.

Click here to begin the survey!

Please feel free to answer the questions in as much detail as you want. The first 10 survey respondents will win one of a number of books of poetry that have been donated by our sponsors and supporters. Everyone who provides these details by 7th March be entered into a further draw to win one of several poetry books.

Thank you!

At the 2015 Poetry By Heart national finals, we took a camera and some questions and spoke to the students from different backgrounds and different schools, unscripted, about their experiences of Poetry By Heart. The result is below. Please share it with everyone you possibly can who may be interested. Spread the word on social media. Put it in newsletters. Show it in classrooms. Show it in assemblies. Send it out into the world!


Hear From The Students from Poetry By Heart on Vimeo.


There’s Still Time!


Hundreds of schools/colleges are already planning and running their school/college competition for Poetry By Heart 2015-16. But there’s still plenty of time to get involved, you’ve got until 15th January to hold your own school/college competition. Get your students started with this simple no-marking, deep-learning, Christmas holidays challenge. By the time you come back from the break, they’ll be ready for a school/college competition!

If there’s time before the end of term..

  • Show your students the Anthology, the Hear from the Students video and a couple of 2015 Finals Videos.
  • Take at look at our Inspiring Students booklet, try using the ‘Learn Some Lines’ exercise on page 5 in class. Ask them to pick one poem from our anthology timeline to try to learn for homework and send them away with ‘Memorising Poems’ on page 10.
  • Before the end of term, invite students to share their poems with the class. Huge kudos to all those who give it a go!

If you’ve done that, set the challenge to learn another poem over Christmas – pre-1914 if they learned a post-1914 poem, or vice versa.

If not, get them to try two short ones (one pre-1914 poem, one post-1914).

If you have three young people who are up for it after the break, you have what you need for a Poetry By Heart competition! It just takes 3…(or 33 if they all want to do it!)

Questions? Call us on 0117 905 5338, email info@poetrybyheart.co.uk or tweet @poetrybyheart

Your school/college winner is guaranteed a place at your county championship in January/February 2016 if you send us your winner’s details before noon on Friday 15th January. County winners (and their teachers) join the expenses-paid winners’ weekend at Homerton College, Cambridge in March 2016 for regional semi-finals and the grand final, judged by top contemporary poets.



Poetry By Heart is a national competition designed to encourage pupils aged 14-18 and at school and college in England to learn and to recite poems by heart.  Not in an arm-waving, props-supported thespian extravaganza, but as the outward and audible manifestation of an inwardly-understood and enjoyed poem.

Poetry By Heart successfully engages young people from diverse social backgrounds and all types of school in personal discovery of the pleasures of poetry. Each pupil is challenged to memorise and recite two poems – one published before 1914 and one in or after 1914 or one from a special collection of World War 1 poems as part of the centenary commemorations.. Pupils choose these from the timeline anthology of over 600 years of poetry on this website. In 2015-16, for the Grand Finals, contestants will recite a third poem.

The competition is a pyramid of participation from individual classrooms to whole school/college contests, then county contests, regional semi-finals and the grand final, to be held at Homerton College, Cambridge on March 17th – 19th 2016. In the process, pupils foster deep personal connections with the poems chosen and bring poetry alive for their friends, families and communities.


Ever since I first started reading poetry in earnest, more than forty years ago, I’ve always thought its meaning has as much to do with sound as it does to do with sense. Poetry, crucially, is an acoustic form. It’s emotional noise. That is why it’s often able to move us before we completely understand it. Its sounds allow us to receive it in our hearts, as well as in our heads.

It has always been my hope in setting up Poetry by Heart that we would give young people the opportunity to enjoy a wider range of poetry than they usually find in their preparation for exams.  We want to offer new ways of finding pleasure and confidence in a part of the curriculum where such things can be in short supply. The sort of pleasure and confidence, in fact, that adds tremendously to young people’s self-esteem, to their verbal skills, to their powers of communication, and so to a more fulfilled life and greater opportunities.  The competition is an end in itself, but it’s also a gateway, a beginning.

Poetry By Heart is designed to put the emphasis on learning by heart, not on learning by rote. It is about understanding and remembering the deep recurring truths about our experience as humans, in terms that are especially beautiful and resonant, It is about doing this in a pleasure-filled way. And it is part of the same benevolent revolution in poetry-proving and poetry-teaching that formed a part of the original intention in founding the Poetry Archive during my ten years as Poet Laureate.

Most of us have some recollection of being made to learn things when we were kids ourselves, and most of us can remember bits or all of those poems in our older age. This tells us several things, I think. It tells us how important it is to learn good stuff, so that our heads are full of nourishing words and not full of junk. It tells us this good stuff changes its meanings in very interesting ways as the years pass and the words stay in our memories. It tells us that despite or because of the effort involved in learning by heart, we as humans have a primitive appetite for it. It makes us feel good. It makes us find ourselves.

When Samuel Johnson was ruminating about the value of literature, he said it helped him ‘enjoy and endure’ his existence. Those two words form the foundation of our competition. We want it to be fun, as it encourages pupils to discover new pleasures and fulfilments, but we want it to be serious as well: an excitement and a dare. To demonstrate, in fact, the marvellous form of two-way travelling that poetry allows us: into ourselves, and out into the world, at one and the same time.

17-19 March 2016


Homerton College, Cambridge




We are delighted to announce that the 2016 Poetry By Heart finals weekend will be held again at Homerton College, Cambridge. The winners of every county contest – and their teachers/school librarians – are guaranteed an expenses paid place at the finals.

First, there are regional contests to pick regional champions. The 7 regional champions automatically secure a place in the grand final, and there is one extra ‘wild card’ place for the best runner-up.

There will also be extra activities to enjoy, including a special welcome dinner in the Great Hall with poetry readings by some of our poet judges, walking tours of Cambridge and creative workshops.




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 2014-15: we have tweaked the scoring and made the poem difficulty category a tie-break matter.

Voice 1-7 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.

Understanding 1-7 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 sense of the poem is powerfully and clearly conveyed to the audience.  The student displays an interpretation that deepens and enlivens the poem.  Meanings, 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.

Performance 1-7 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.


Additional considerations in the event of a close tie: variety, difficulty, diversity

In the event of a very close tie between two or more students, judges should consider the the level of challenge the student has chosen. This might be indicated in the variety of poems selected for recitation, with different styles, moods, language varieties, voices or settings. It might also be indicated by poem difficulty. 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.

Schools/colleges that have taken part in previous years should note the changes indicated in red below.


Who can compete?

The Poetry By Heart competition is for students in years 10-13. There is nothing at all to stop you having additional rounds for younger students but only a student in Year 10-13 can represent your school in the county round and beyond. (We’re working on a plan for a Key Stage 3 competition but we haven’t got there just yet!)

When do the school/college competitions take place?

Schools/colleges hold a valid competition between 1st September 2015 and 15th January 2016. All criteria are in the new competition pack we will send to you by 1st September 2016.  NEW – MORE TIME FOR SCHOOL/COLLEGE COMPETITIONS!

How big does a school/college competition have to be?

It only takes 3 eligible students (Years 10-13) for a valid competition (though 33 or 333 are fine too). It can be done on whatever scale you like – in a lunch-hour, a lesson, an assembly, an after-school club or as part of an evening performance.

Which poems do students recite?

In the school competition and the county competition, students recite 2 poems by heart, a pre-1914 poem from the Poetry By Heart timeline anthology plus either a post-1914 poem from the timeline anthology or a poem from the Poetry By Heart First World War Showcase. Your winner can recite the same poems at the county contest, or different ones, as long as they meet the selection criteria, and as long as you inform Poetry By Heart of any changes. NEW – ONLY 2 POEMS IN SCHOOL/COUNTY COMPETITIONS, PLEASE NOTE NEW SELECTION CRITERIA

What happens after the school/college competition?

Your Year 10-13 school/college winner is guaranteed a place in the county contest, run on the same basis as your school competition but with other schools and colleges, and with poets and performers as MCs and judges. However, you MUST register your school/college winner and runner up with Poetry By Heart as soon as possible after your competition, and no later then 15th January 2016. County contest venues and dates will be available by 1st September 2015.

What happens after the county competition?

The county winner and his/her teacher or school librarian are guaranteed places at the expenses paid national finals weekend at Homerton College, Cambridge. Students must be chaperoned by a teacher/school librarian.

What happens at the national finals?

Students recite 3 poems at the national finals: one pre-1914 and one post-1914 poem from the Poetry By Heart anthology timeline and one poem from the Poetry By Heart First World War showcase. There are prizes for competitors at the county contests and national finals, and a handsome trophy, one for the winning student and one for their school or college. The finals are judged by top UK poets and poetry experts. There is also a fun programme of additional activities throughout the winners’ weekend: a festival of poetry as well as a competition.





The 2015-16 search for a new Poetry By Heart national champion starts Monday 25th May 2015. 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 from 1st September 2015 to 15th January 2016. 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. Only a Year 10-13 student can progress to the county 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 pre-1914 from the Poetry By Heart anthology timeline (on this website), and either one post-1914 poem from the PBH anthology timeline or one poem from the Poetry By Heart First World War showcase (also on this website).


County contests


Each Poetry By Heart school/college champion (as long as they are in Year 10-13) is entitled to a place in their county contest. School/college organisers MUST confirm which student will be entering this next round, and with which poems, as soon as possible after the school/college competition, and no later than 15th January 2016.

In this round, students must recite two poems: as before, one pre-1914 poem from the Poetry By Heart anthology timeline (on this website), and either one post-1914 poem from the PBH anthology timeline or one poem from the Poetry By Heart First World War showcase (also on this website).  This is a change from previous years and should be noted carefully. Students may recite the same poems as in their school competition, or they may change them, as long as the selection criteria are met and the Poetry By Heart team are informed.

In 2015-16 there will be 35 county contests taking place between Friday 29th January 2016 and Friday 27th February 2016. As soon as the venues and dates are confirmed these will be posted here. We intend to have all confirmed by 1st September 2015.


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 17th March to Saturday 19th March 2016. 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 or librarian from their school/college, and everyone gets to enjoy an additional programme of activities in Cambridge, including meeting the poet judges. On Saturday afternoon, the 2016 Poetry By Heart national champion will be crowned!