Schools Challenge was founded by Colin Galloway in 1978, and is divided into Senior and Junior sections. Senior Schools Challenge is for students aged up to 18, with no lower age restriction. In practice the teams tend to draw on Form III to Upper VI (Year 9 to Year 13 in maintained schools in England & Wales). Each team comprises four members, two of whom must be no older than the normal age for a Form IV (Year 10) student (in 2016/17, born on or after 1 September 2001, or 1 August 2001 in Northern Ireland). The other two can be of any age. Junior Schools Challenge is for students up to and including the normal age for a Form II Year 8) student, or preparatory school pupils: in 2016, born on or after 1 September 2003(1 August 2003 in Northern Ireland). Again, there are four members in each team but there are no restrictions on the numbers of any students from a particular age group in this competition.
The competition is divided this way because of the incongruence between the independent school system and grammar or comprehensive schools. In some independent school systems students attend a preparatory school until the age of 13, after which time they transfer to another school. Schools Challenge has had to work around this so that no school has an unfair advantage in terms of age.
Both Senior and Junior competitions are divided into a maximum of 15 regions. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales each comprise a separate region. Each region has a coordinator, the Regional Organiser, who in turn answers to the National Organisers.
The 15 regional winners play an inter-regional round, the winners of which participate in the national finals to contest the Schools Challenge shield. Teams who lose in the first round of the national final contest enter the repechage contest for the Schools Challenge Plate. Finals are contested in a single day, normally the last Sunday in April for the Senior competition and the third Sunday in June for the Junior competition, at a central venue.
The game is played to similar rules to University Challenge. Starter questions are asked to all contestants and the first to buzz must answer immediately (or the full question is passed to the other team). The team that correctly answers a buzzer question is then asked three 'bonus' questions which they may confer on and which may be passed to the other team. The main differences between Schools Challenge and University Challenge are:
No points are deducted for incorrectly interrupting a starter question on the buzzer.
Bonus questions are worth 10 points each and are passed across to the other team if answered incorrectly.
A team answering the starter and all three subsequent bonuses correctly gains an extra bonus of 10 points: thus 50 points are available per round.
There are no picture rounds or music rounds at present.
8-player lockout buzzers, common in quizzes of this type are used and are supplied by tournament organisers if a hosting school cannot supply the equipment. While tournament rules do not specify a manufacturer, the Jaser Quizmaster system is the de facto standard in many regions. An electronic scoreboard, which can be projected onto an IWB or screen has been used in a number of Regional Finals and National Finals in recent years.