When I volunteered to be a first round judge of the BBC Radio Two 500 Words competition this year I thought it might be a nice thing to do. Cheer me up, inspire me, allow me to feel like I was “giving a bit back” to the world. For those of you not “in the know”, 500 Words is a competition run by the BBC where young people aged 5-13 are invited to create a story in 500 words or less and enter it, with the chance of winning prizes such as their own height in books.
I finished reading my 31 allotted stories yesterday and returned them to the BBC. The organisation that goes into the competition is phenomenal, and the BBC should take a huge amount of credit for putting together what must be an enormously complicated operation. I was emailed a link to the website with my personal login and password. When I logged in I had 31 stories assigned to me. I clinked on the first one and off I went, diving into the myriad worlds created by these unknown and incredibly talented youngsters.
What I encountered in the 500 words of the assorted 9-13 year olds floored me. There were magical worlds of sci-fi and fantasy-themed origin; some very realistic and quite hard hitting tales of tragedy and drama; lots of humour; some historical fiction based on a range of world events pupils have clearly been taught about at school, and even a few Minecraft-inspired creations!
It struck me how these stories form a wonderful picture of the next generation: their interests, the issues they feel strongly about, the things which strike a chord with them. The diversity of the content was enormous, and the beautiful crafting of language used in some of the stories quite humbled me. Whether these young people have been inspired to enter the competition by parents, teachers, fellow students at school, or simply heard about the competition independently and “had a go”, it is extremely encouraging to see so many of them putting pen to paper and simply showing what they are capable of.
In an age where we constantly hear of the declining standards in schools, that pupils in Britain are leaving school without the capacity to read and write well enough to succeed in a career, where politicians are quick to slam schools for failing the students who attend, 500 Words is surely a wonderful example of those young people so often ignored by the statistics. Those who can be and are inspired by their teachers, who want to try out new things, who aren’t afraid to put themselves out there and be guided to create 500 words of potential magic.
So here’s to the BBC for setting up such a wonderful opportunity for young people. Here’s to the teachers who work so hard in their classrooms to engage and inspire their pupils to be creative. And last, but definitely not least, here’s to the young people, the next generation, the adults of tomorrow, who are so inventive and courageous in getting involved in such a wonderful project.
And am I interested in judging again next year?
You bet I am. Try and stop me.
Photo credit: BBC Website