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READ Foundation teamed up with prize-winning novelist and fellow of the Royal Society of Arts Qaisra Shahraz for 2018's Writing Competition. 

The entry guidelines were simple: a poem, short story or first person essay on the theme of “My education helped me….”. 

Our charity knows how important education is in a young person’s life. Which is why we wanted entrants to help inspire the next generation of creatives by telling them all about the role education played in their own lives. 

It was a struggle, but we managed to narrow it down to just one winner and two runners up. Congratulations to all three writers.



Our winner is Rhian Holvey from Cambridge. Rhian thought long and hard about the theme of the competition before she started writing her entry. Her mum advised her to go down an autobiographical route and write from the heart...and it certainly paid off. Congratulations Rhian!

This piece was truly inspirational. There was a comprehensive educational message which covered many subjects, including a love of stories and books but also more traditionally academic subjects like science.

The last paragraph sums up the theme beautifully - encouraging and promoting learning well. There were lots of lovely examples of learning in many different contexts.

This piece was interesting, engaging and had a lovely personal message at the end - why limit education?

- Qaisra Shahraz, (Biography)

Learning Life

I have two great but disparate passions in my life: science and story telling. It’s a blend of interests I often have to defend: how can you be a scientist and write stories though? I have been asked that question more times than I can count but I still have only one answer: why not? Education should not be limited to one field or another. You should follow your dreams wherever they take you. If not for my education, I might not have had either of my passions.

As long as I can remember I have had at least one book on the go. I devoured stories like they were food. Soon enough I was memorising and retelling them, then twisting them, then making up my own. Stories were my escape, whether I was reading or writing them.

I read mainly fiction, tales of faraway lands were the travel guides for my imagination but I was insatiably curious. I asked questions and wanted to know more about the world around me. I had inspirational teachers who showed me that studying science opened windows onto worlds I had never before considered. It’s a path that has been blazed by some incredible figures: Ada Lovelace, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie… I was fascinated. Science has a way of opening the world to you but it is an extremely broad field: from the awesome scale of astrophysics all the way through to the complicated biology of our own lives.

Chemistry is often the forgotten middle child but it was its bridging nature that drew me to it. It’s key to understanding the conversion of food to energy, the dyes of our clothes, the medicine we take. The more I learnt the more I was drawn in. It’s a puzzle that demands creativity too, how to design and make a molecule: that especially caught my heart. It’s what I spend my days doing now!

Some see education as a linear line, increasingly specialised, one that stops when you finish school, college or university. It isn’t; it can be as linear or as branched as you want and go on as long as you live. As long as you ask questions and seek to learn more. Whatever field inspires you or, like me, more than one, keep seeking to learn more, pushing back the frontiers of our knowledge! Be the scientists, engineers, teachers, doctors, historians, writers or other important roles of the future. Education is something to be embraced every day of our lives. Without mine, I couldn’t have walked a line between my two passions. They have led me wondrous places. I have been blessed to meet people who have inspired me: teachers, writers and colleagues. They all still teach me, even now.

So reach out! Whatever your passion, seek to know more. Embrace your opportunities, wherever you wish them to take you, even if the road is full of twists and turns. Finally and most important of all: never, ever stop learning!

Runner Up 1: Judith Jenkinson - Within These Pages

Judith is an outdoor learning assistant and writer. Her two children were consulted and gave approval before she entered her poem into the competition. Luckily our judge agreed with their choice!

I loved the use of a book as a metaphor for education. The imagery is great and really paints a picture in your mind. It can be tricky to make a poem rhyme and keep that going throughout without the rhymes being laboured, but this flows easily and is a lovely poem to read. It’s beautifully written and pulls the reader in.

- Qaisra Shahraz, (Biography)

Within These Pages

When you look at me what do you see
Just a tattered book upon your knee?
Heavy to hold. To read a chore.
Look a little closer. Linger and explore.

In my pages are the key
To unlimited opportunity.
Ideas upon which you can build.
Achieve your goals. Your dreams fulfilled.

A book is a chance to put up your hand.
To talk with others. To take a stand.
Experiment with ideas and contemplate,
Imagine and deliberate.

Reading is an invitation to play with prose.
To bond with others - friendship grows.
To learn new skills and find solutions.
Change lives through your contributions.

Upon your knee is an important tool.
Not just for teachers in a school.
A book can invent, innovate, inform,
Revolutionise, influence and transform.

In my pages, look close and see
The opportunities that live inside of me.
This potential is foolish to ignore.
Linger now and explore.

Runner Up 2: Emily Withers - My Education Helped Me Transform

Emily is currently a student at Cardiff University studying English Literature and History. This is the first ever writing competition she has entered and was thrilled to be named a runner up.

I really admired the fact the writer had chosen different perspectives on education – a child, a teenager and an adult. This is a good example of how education transforms you as a person and emphasises that education doesn’t just end when you become an adult and leave school. I enjoyed the structure and the end message too.

- Qaisra Shahraz, (Biography)

My education helped me transform

Five-year-old Emily tiptoed into the classroom of her first ever school lesson. She had butterflies and wrung her clammy hands constantly, eyes locked to the floor. Every step she took moved her further into a place of uncertainty, which Emily did not like one bit. The other children scared her as they zoomed around the classroom, playing games and laughing. She wanted more than anything to go home, but her parents had told her that school was really important, so she knew she had to stay.


Sixteen-year-old Emily strolled confidently across the stage to accept her award. She shook the hand of the head teacher and smiled as her achievement was read out. ‘Best all-round student’. As she looked into the crowd of faces, she reflected with pride how the last eleven years had changed her. Once nervous and tongue-tied, she now stood tall, and relished any opportunity to talk to new people. Gone was the girl who backed out in fear. She had been replaced by the girl who played netball, rounders and football, who volunteered to show around new students, and who introduced herself with a smile and a firm handshake whenever the situation arose. Emily was certain that she was destined for great things. The things that she had learnt at school, about history and maths and French and sports and geography and religion, had filled her brain with wonder, and her heart with a determination to make a mark on the world. She could not wait to see what the future had to offer.


Thirty-five-year-old Emily beamed as she watched her children get ready for their first day back at school. Alex was nine, and already showed great promise as an artist. He spent all day drawing, colouring, making models, painting and creating masterpieces. He had got himself ready in under five minutes, and sat waiting for his first day back, excited to get back to his art lessons and after-school painting club. His sister, five-year-old Lily, was giggling as her father coiled her hair into two tight bunches, kept in place with glittery bobbles. It was her very first day at school. Emily felt a familiar sensation of butterflies as she loaded her children into the car and set off for the school gates. She wondered if Lily felt the same way. Whatever her children were feeling, she knew that this school year would be one of learning, friendship and fun. Her own education had helped her transform into the woman she was today, with a good job, a close circle of friends and two beautiful, polite children.


Education is the greatest gift in the life of a young person. Cherish every moment you have in a classroom and absorb all of the knowledge you can. This part of your life will give you the skills you need to make a difference, and create a place for yourself in the world.

Short story and poetry judge Qaisra Shahraz


We had some incredibly strong entries and it was a real pleasure to see how different writers had interpreted and used the theme of “My education helped me….”. There were so many strong submissions that it was really hard to narrow them all down to just one winner and two runners up.

There was lots of variety in the entries we received: short stories, personal essays and poems. Some were written from the writer’s own perspective, some were written from the perspective of a famous person and we even had a cat entry! It was an absolute joy to be a judge.

I want say to all those people who sadly didn’t rank in the top – please keep writing. It was so encouraging to judge a competition in which there could have easily been 50 winners. Thank you for taking the time to enter – it truly was a privilege to have read so many insightful and inspiring pieces.

And to the winner and runners up – congratulations. You had a tough job fending off so many strong entries, so you should be very pleased with the title!

- Qaisra Shahraz, (Biography)