About the English Olympiad

The De Beers English Olympiad is an English competition that draws over 8000 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.

The primary objectives of the De Beers 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 get too little opportunity for such self-expression in the normal school routine, and are searching for a stimulus to this creativity. The syllabus and examination also cause learners to explore the relevance of literature to themselves and the world around them. Those candidates who are prepared to take a risk and 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 De Beers English Olympiad is distinctive in that, unlike other Olympiads, it requires learners to study a prescribed text. This sets in motion a valuable learning process. English teachers set up study groups to examine the text and this leads to the exploration of a whole range of related ideas and theories. Each year a new anthology and theme is compiled by SACEE, and the examination is based on this theme and anthology.

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, 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 SACEE, and currently the Council’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 old Cape Province. The number of entries rose to 332 that year. In 1978, the Olympiad was further extended to include all parts of South Africa and the number of entries continued to rise substantially from then on. The 1982 English Olympiad for example, attracted 2,760 entries from 256 schools, which was a 45% increase from the previous year.

In 1985, De Beers came on board as the main sponsor of the English 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 with a total of 4,115 entries being 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 the sponsors for their generous support. Without them, the English Olympiad would not be possible: