Aim: For students to understand the merit in studying an academically challenging subject at a good university without there necessarily being a direct link to a career at the end.
Background: The English department offers AS/A2 English Literature, AS/A2 English Language, GCSE English and Functional Skills. Despite being a very successful department (borderline Outstanding in the last Ofsted inspection), the number of students going on to study literature in higher education was relatively low (12%). Student satisfaction on English courses was always high. However, there was a slant towards Maths and Science courses or degrees that clearly led to a career, e.g. Law.
Method: In the first year a seminar programme was put in place to give a preview of university-style study, and to enable teaching staff to make use of their specialist knowledge in areas beyond the usual A-Level curriculum. An essay competition was introduced. Staff visited schools where recruitment had dipped to enthuse students about English. These initiatives continued in the second year and received positive feedback from students.
In the third year more visits to universities including Oxbridge were organised. Funding for a literary visit to Copenhagen was secured, and students were taken to the British Library and to conferences in London and Norwich. Switching to WJEC Literature dramatically improved results and student enjoyment of the course, leading to a resurgence in numbers continuing to A2. The college entered students for the Poetry by Heart competition. Students who had been involved in the seminar programme organised their own lunchtime revision club.
Evidence: Number of applications, exam results, student surveys.
Impact: By the second year recruitment to the A-level Literature course had improved significantly. Applications for Literature degrees also increased to 18, representing 21% of the A Level completers. By the third year there were 13 applications for Literature degrees, representing 20% of the cohort, and 6 for other related subjects.
Participation in the seminar programme and essay competition has continued to grow and the students involved demonstrated a more independent approach to their studies; in the weeks building up to the AS Level exams the students formed their own revision club at lunchtimes which had grown from 8 to 35 by the end.
The Poetry by Heart competition was well attended and the winner went on to the county stage. This will be extended next year as the successful students will be organising the internal heat. Putting the onus on the students and giving them ownership of the competition should allow this to grow further.
Reflections: The project has encouraged staff to spend time focusing on why they are passionate about their subject and this has been positive. Students have, in general, been receptive, and feedback has shown that they have enjoyed their experience. It would be interesting to explore the impact of the change to linear A Levels, in terms of recruitment, retention, achievement, enjoyment and progression.
Contact: Ellie Dodgson, Curriculum Manager