About the English Olympiad

The National English Olympiad is an English literature competition that draws over 6000 entries each year from around South Africa and its neighbouring countries. The competition is organized jointly by the Grahamstown Foundation and the South African Council for English Education (SACEE).

The primary objectives of the English Olympiad are:

The syllabus and examination questions offer stimulation not found within the school syllabus. They call for acute critical ability and sharp writing skills, but they also seek to draw out creative thinking and writing – aptitudes so central to our humanness. Many learners have too little opportunity for such self-expression in the normal school routine, and are searching for a stimulus for this creativity. The syllabus and examination also cause learners to explore the relevance of literature to themselves and to the world around them. Those candidates who are prepared to take a risk and to answer the more challenging questions in an unusual and creative way are usually the candidates who excel in the exam. The value of the Olympiad extends far beyond the actual writing of the examination. The English Olympiad is distinctive in that, unlike other Olympiads, it requires learners to study prescribed texts. This sets in motion a valuable learning process: preparation for the English Olympiad is essentially a self-study process, but to encourage and launch candidates into the process English teachers are advised to set up study groups.  The scrutiny of texts by study groups, aided by the official Study Guide, leads to the exploration of a whole range of related ideas and theories. Each year a new theme and a related anthology are compiled by SACEE, together with a Study Guide.

The competition is open to all learners in Grade 9, 10, 11 and 12 in the year that the exam is written. Entries are only accepted through schools. As the examination is based on an open-book system, every candidate receives an anthology and a study guide, the costs of which are included in the entry fee. For more information about the theme, entry fees, etc, please download the Call for Entries and Entry Form from the Home page of this website, or contact the Olympiad Officer who will email, fax or post these to you.

How did the English Olympiad start?

The English Olympiad started as a small project in 1976 when Dr Malcolm Venter, a member of the Eastern Cape branch committee of the South African Council for English Education, and currently the SACEE's National Chairperson, was asked to organise such an event locally. The first competition attracted 119 entries and the winner received a prize of R50.

The following year SACEE and the Grahamstown Foundation formed a partnership in which SACEE oversaw the academic aspects of the project and the Grahamstown Foundation took over the general administration.  The competition was extended to cover the whole of the Cape Province, and the number of entries rose to 332 that year. In 1978 the Olympiad was further extended to include all parts of South Africa.

In 1985 De Beers came on board as the main sponsor of the Olympiad. In 1995 SACEE decided to introduce a new ‘open book’ format to the examination. This allowed for a more theme-orientated approach. For the first time examiners were able to ask questions which were open-ended and which required personal responses. This change proved to be extremely popular, and a total of 4,115 entries were received that year. Two years later, 300 schools submitted a total of 4,676 entries between them and the competition has continued to grow since then.


The Grahamstown Foundation and SACEE warmly thank all past and current sponsors for their generous support, and especially -

Without such support the success of the English Olympiad would not have been possible. 

Future Sponsorship

At present the Olympiad has no main sponsor, and is seeking support from any suitable organisation committed to education and the future of our country.