Students compete in the final of the inaugural Gresham Schools Competition

Journalists sitting and writing in notepads

Students from Southend High School for Girls and George Spencer Academy win Environment-focused Speaking Competition at Gresham College

Students from Southend High School for Girls, George Spencer Academy (joint first),  Belfast Royal Academy and Bishop’s Stortford College were celebrating last night after winning gold, silver and bronze medals in a prestigious public presentation/ oracy competition, the Gresham Competition, seeing off competition from 360 other applicants from across the UK. The finals took place at Gresham College, Barnard’s Inn Hall in London on 24 January.

This is the first year of the Gresham Competition, which was designed to encourage students to develop their public presentation/ oracy skills. Unlike many public speaking competitions, rather than focus on debate and argument the Competition looks at how to present in a clear and compelling way.

Professor Martin Elliott, Provost of Gresham College, said, “We had so many brilliant entries for the Competition this year, competition was extremely fierce, so getting through to the finals is a real achievement – let alone winning! Speaking and presenting in public is a real life skill.” Professor Elliott gives speeches about medicine all over the world.

The winning students were: 
Joint Gold Award: Yemisi Oguntimirin from Southend High School For Girls and Yassin Azeb from George Spencer Academy
Silver Award: Harry Nicholson from Belfast Royal Academy
Bronze Award: Rebecca Towns from Bishop’s Stortford College

Yemisi said: "As it was, I was elated to have gotten through to the final of this competition. I felt so privileged to get to stand in front of such an encouraging audience and established panel of judges and speak on an issue I’m passionate about. However, winning was a completely different type of excitement! I feel this experience has pushed me out of my comfort zone and I plan to use the oracy skills I developed in this process in all my future endeavours, specifically as I venture into the realms of politics and international relations."

Her teacher Chloe Spilstead, Director of Faculty, Humanities, at Southend High School for Girls said: "I was incredibly proud of Yemisi’s achievements and the work she has put into this independently. The competition was rigorous and demanding which make the victory even sweeter."

Yassin said: "Winning was a great endorsement of the skills I want to develop, especially due to the quality of the other finalists.  It was a really fun challenge within such a prestigious environment and the authentic set up made the competition even more enjoyable. This has greatly boosted my confidence in my oracy skills and I feel even better to equipment to look for roles in the future involving public speaking."

Tom Hopkins Burke, Literacy Co-ordinator, George Spencer Academy, said: “I am delighted that Yassin was able to win joint first prize in the Gresham Competition.  He demonstrated our ethos of excellence in his convincing and articulate argument about how we can get to Net Zero.  At George Spencer we are working hard this year to build all students’ articulacy, and Yassin has set a fantastic example to our younger years.”

Rebecca Towns said: “It was a privilege to even be shortlisted for the Gresham's National Public Speaking Competition, and the idea that I won a bronze medal, especially up against such eloquent and intelligent competition, still feels surreal to me. I greatly appreciate the platform that the competition gave me, allowing me to speak out in support of climate change action; the ability for young people to voice their opinions is something that I really believe in - it's so encouraging to see colleges like Gresham's prioritising this kind of rhetoric."

"Overall, the experience has been an amazing one that I will value as I move forward into Upper Sixth and beyond. If I have learnt anything that I would pass on from this: no matter whether you believe you will succeed or fail miserably, go for it - give it a go, because two months ago, I never believed I would even have the opportunity to go to the final, and here I am..!”

This is the first year Gresham College (free public lectures since 1597) has run the Gresham Competition. It’s aimed at sixth form students Year 12 (England and Wales), S5 (Scotland) and Year 13 (Northern Ireland)) and was set up to promote the art of communicating complex information in a clear, concise and compelling way. The theme this year is the environment and sustainability.

Students entered the competition by recording themselves making a five-minute presentation, and the finalists will meet to present this in person in London in front of a panel of prestigious judges from Gresham College, the Financial Times and another national news organisation. Four winners  received medals and cash prizes.

The questions they answered were one of the following:

  1. Who should be responsible for creating a better future environment for the next generation? How and why? 
  2. What should the UK government do about the environment that will benefit your generation? 
  3. Who should be most responsible for getting to Net Zero and why? 
  4. What is the greatest positive environmental change you expect to see in your lifetime? 
  5. What responsibilities should young people take on in addressing environmental/ climate issues today and why?

Read more here:

Notes to Editors

Contact Lucia Graves, Head of Comms (PR & Media) for more information about the competition, and photographs of the winners, 07799 738 439

Read more about the Schools:
Southend High School for Girls
George Spencer Academy
Bishop’s Stortford College
Belfast Royal Academy