Aim: To ensure that students who choose to study English-based courses at university are equipped to meet the demands of their degree courses by providing enrichment material to broaden and deepen their subject knowledge beyond the confines of curricula.
Background: The proportion of adults and young people from Thurrock who progress to higher education (HE) is low. The implicit overarching aim of the project was therefore to provide students with the resources they might need to overcome social, cultural and intellectual barriers to studying at degree level.
Year 1: A guide to studying English at university was produced; it included information about the variety of courses available, departments with high reputations and particular strengths, modes of delivery, and advice about making choices and applying. High achieving and ambitious students were invited to hear from university professors and gain insight into applying to the more competitive universities. A group of students visited the English department at Queen Mary, University of London and two students attended a series of sessions on English Literature at Reading University as part of the Reading Scholars Scheme.
Year 2: A series of weekly lunchtime meetings for students applying to study English at university was established. These meetings focused on researching courses and institutions and were followed by supervision of the personal statement drafting processes. Once applications had been submitted, the focus shifted to wider reading and a series of talks by teachers on their specialist academic areas, designed to enhance students’ subject knowledge.
Year 3: A substantial ‘stretch and challenge’ handbook was created and issued to students to introduce them to the sort of material that they would encounter in the context of an HE English course, thus providing them with a head start. Students were encouraged to enter creative writing competitions, and nineteen saw their short stories appear in a collection published by the Young Writers organisation. Two students attended a summer school at Oxford University.
Year 4: Further initiatives included a screening at the college of the National Theatre’s production of Frankenstein, a Skype broadcast of a lecture on psychoanalysis and Toni Morrison’s Beloved held at Nottingham Trent University.
Evidence: Student surveys, university application feedback.
Impact: Student surveys indicated that they appreciated the initiative and, in particular, the opportunity to have their UCAS applications guided by a subject specialist. All students who participated in the programme received offers of places on English-related HE courses. 2015/16 was the first year in which a student gained an offer from Oxford University to study English Literature. Staff enjoyed making use of their specific areas of academic expertise and enthusing students.
Reflections: The main challenge was making students aware of the programme. Although it was advertised, not all students who might have benefitted from participation were initially aware of its existence. We have recently created a Twitter account, which should improve communication with students.
Contact: Neil Allan, Subject Area Manager, English, firstname.lastname@example.org