Schools Challenge

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Schools' Challenge (UKSC)
UK Schools Challenge 2022 Logo.jpg
President or CEO Robert Grant
Location: UK, Nationwide
Status Active

Schools' Challenge is the largest and only active quiz competition for secondary schools in the UK. It was based on (but unaffiliated with) University Challenge and originally established in 1977. Despite eschewing multiple key modern quizbowl practices and not being considered that as a result, it is considered the de facto national competition for quiz in the UK and involves a base of at least 50-60 schools every year.


Match format

The match format of Schools' Challenge borrows heavily from its namesake, albeit with a few key differences. Tossups, or starters as they are called in Schools' Challenge, are worth 10 points followed by three bonus questions conferred on worth a further 10 points each. Bouncebacks are permitted and common. If all three bonus questions are successfully answered, an extra 10 points are awarded to form a tossup-bonus round worth 50 points. In a match, 25 bonus rounds are heard (not counting dead tossups like cycles do conventionally), before a timed five-minute 'lightning round' plays to finish the match- different to the previous rounds in that conferring time for bonuses is reduced from 10 to 4 seconds. If a match is tied, 'sudden death' tiebreakers may be played until a winner is clear. There are no picture or music rounds as in University Challenge.

Starters are, importantly, semi-pyramidal and more commonly non-pyramidal and there are no powers or points penalties for negs throughout the competition. As a result, buzzer speed has been emphasised historically as a a key component of success in Schools' Challenge to a degree unlike in other competitions and it cannot be considered, primarily due to this, to be quizbowl or even bad quizbowl despite ostensible similarities in format and academic focus. Bonuses are of the same style as comparable quizbowl tournaments though, even if the difficulty varies in quality and does not always reach the level of American equivalents such as the [HSNCT].

Competition format

Schools' Challenge is technically divided into three competitions: Junior Schools' Challenge, open to the first two years of middle school, Intermediate Schools' Challenge for eighth-graders and freshmen, and Senior Schools' Challenge for students in the remaining three years of high school. A unique rule for Senior Schools' Challenge is that a maximum of two students out of a team of four may be seniors, intended to prevent domination of teams by the oldest, most skilled students.

Question sets are written in-house by the organisers, currently Robert and Allison Grant. While questions are broadly sequenced from regional to national level, difficulty can end up varying significantly within a packet and there is no set distribution of topics publicly or privately, even if previous packets have been available to order- setting Schools’ Challenge apart from formal quizbowl. While that question focus is nevertheless of a generally consistent academic standard, notably science and mathematics questions are far less common than in quizbowl with the gap being filled by other topics; primarily 'other academic', current events and trash.

Tournament format

Schools' Challenge presently begins with preliminary rounds played online- the question set used for each tournament's round is sent to a 'host' teacher (generally a coach) before a match is played via either Zoom or Microsoft Teams. These matches are knockout, but if a team loses in the first round they drop into their section's Plate competition, where knockout matches are then played for a secondary trophy. Anywhere between three and five matches may be played (depending on the number of schools) before the field is reduced to eight teams per section, and an in-person National Finals is scheduled. This takes place at a host school, and has customarily taken place in London since 2019. There is no limit apart from age from appearing more than once.


Buzzers are of standard format- is used for the more common online matches. For in-person matches, there is a growing trend of DIY buzzer sets made in-house alongside older models such as Jaser Electronics, as well as limited use of American-made models such as Andersons'.

Notable successes

Schools' Challenge is open to all schools but is heavily dominated by private schools with a minority of selective state schools (notably Lancaster RGS won it three times in 2010, 2012 and 2013 as the latter). Non-selective state schools have never achieved meaningful success in the history of the competition despite making up an overwhelming majority of secondary schools in the UK. The most successful team in history is the Westminster School, with nine senior championships since 2005. Other successful schools include KES Birmingham with six championships and the Perse School Cambridge with four (and a record eight junior championships). They are also the only side to win the Senior and Junior competitions in one year, as they did this year (2023). These teams tend to be ever-presents at the Nationals and qualify almost every year.

Most schools in the competition are either partially or completely single-sex male, reflecting the gender-segregated private education system in the UK, and the only all-female team to qualify for the nationals is Bournemouth School for Girls, who won the Plate in 2019.

Data on individual players is unknown and not kept as it is in quizbowl competitions- due to the speed-check nature of starters which promote generalism, one-person teams are very common so if data were kept, it would heavily reflect that.

See also

External links