Ripon Grammar student wins Cambridge essay competition

A pasionate young Ripon historian has won first prize in a prestigious University of Cambridge essay competition.

By Janet Harrison
Friday, 17th June 2022, 8:37 am

Ripon Grammar School sixth former Maddy Gordon-Finlayson beat hundreds of entrants from all over the country to win the highly competitive Newnham College writing contest.

Judges described her thought-provoking essay titled ‘Historians shouldn’t be political pundits. Discuss’ as sophisticated and compelling.

The 17-year-old, from Ryedale, is taking history, English literature and politics at A-level and hopes to study history at Cambridge or the University of Edinburgh.

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A keen singer and pianist, who aims to work in publishing, she wins £400 to be divided between herself and school, which she will receive at a prize-giving ceremony at the world-famous seat of learning later this month and which, she revealed, will be spent on books.

Ed Long, head of history at RGS said: “Maddy is an utterly dedicated and gifted student who has wowed us all in history and politics since the start of the course. Her success is as impressive as it is fitting.”

The women-only Cambridge college’s popular annual essay prize competitions are designed to encourage ambitious female sixth formers in state schools to develop their independent research and writing skills at a university level.

Inspired to enter the competition as part of RGS’s Plus One sixth form programme, which encourages students to challenge themselves beyond the curriculum, Maddy said: “I would really recommend essay competitions; they’re a fantastic way to stretch yourself beyond A-levels in a subject you are passionate about.

“I’m interested in women’s history the importance of a feminist political standpoint and developed my ideas from there.

“I was also drawn to the question because it’s so topical; politicians frequently manipulate or misrepresent history in the pursuit of power or to further a certain agenda, as we have seen with Putin and the war in Ukraine.”

Judges praised Maddy’s excellent intro, clear thesis statement and strong concluding thoughts: “A sophisticated essay that considers a difficult prompt. Wide-ranging use of evidence and compelling arguments throughout.”

Maddy, who sings in the school’s Chamber Choir and volunteers at Ripon Workhouse Museum’s curating department, has also recently completed the York St John University pre-teaching award as part of her sixth form Plus One programme.