Enhance appreciation of English Literature in the community

As part of the Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) programme, participants are required to undertake a quality improvement project. 

This editorial provides an overview of an improvement project by Catherine Elvey, Petroc, which aims to enhance appreciation of English Literature (as delivered at Petroc) in the community and to demonstrate opportunities available at the college. 

Aims and objectives 

To promote a more positive relationship between the college and local schools, and to enthuse young people to participate in conversations concerning great literature; to remove negative associations garnered from GCSE study experience, and to promote a culture of learning that involves young people from different local communities interacting with each other. 



The initial approach was to liaise with local schools via the marketing team. My decision was to target Year 10 (the 14-15 age group) as I felt that a focus on Year 11 students (15-16) would clash problematically with the GCSE examination series and concomitant revision. The college initially wished for a focus on Year 11 students as an immediate marketing exercise, but I persuaded management that a focus on Year 10 was preferable.  

I interviewed many English teachers for my project: perhaps the most fundamental issue raised was that the compulsory study of GCSE English Literature was adversely impacting students' passion for the subject.  

My mentor emailed the principal, who contacted me asking for a brief overview of my project; initially there was to be a focus on online delivery, which the principal was enthusiastic about. We are a rural college with a very large catchment area (North Devon, North Cornwall and parts of Somerset), so a project that would enable a convenient introduction that did not involve travel would be ideal. 

In spring 2021, I had represented Petroc and the FE sector in an online conference on the subject of distance learning. It was apparent that Petroc is forward-thinking and innovative in terms of use of software and creative ideas yet hampered by hardware and broadband provision. I interviewed my students about their experience of live online provision, and the internet connection was continually raised as the most deleterious aspect of our live provision during covid. Our marketing team suggested that local schools would prefer face-to-face provision. This alternative was not without its own challenges, ‘local’ being something of a relative term in Devon, with distances between organisations being greater than that in most other UK districts.  

Once it had been established that a face-to-face delivery was favourable, I had to decide upon how to present the sessions. My mentor suggested an onsite cafe, The Liberty Centre, which could facilitate informal discussion groups. There is a prevailing fear that the compulsory GCSE was adversely impacting students' passion for English Literature; this was another reason why I thought a cafe was such a desirable venue, as it is a different context from classrooms, where negative experiences were possibly occurring.  

Initially, I thought themed evenings would work best: dystopian fiction one week, modern poetry the next. Ultimately, however, I came to the (possibly) surprising conclusion that a chronological 'heritage' approach was best, as 'the curriculum...we deliver needs to work as a whole with links and threads running through it, so it all makes sense’ (Sherringham, 2018).  



Project findings and recommendations 

Data collection and analysis: 

I had seven students from four different schools. My preferred method of recruitment was via English teachers in the local schools, who I felt were best placed to recommend students who they thought would benefit the most. However, this is not quite what happened, for reasons I will explain in the impact section. 

Impact of the project: 

Initially, the marketing team and my principal requested that I liaise with schools, and I felt empowered (if slightly overwhelmed) at the prospect. However, a manager in charge of outreach cited safeguarding concerns arising from hosting the 14-16 age group.  

The managerial/marketing approach was to recruit as many students as possible, whereas my desired approach was to select a small number of subject enthusiasts, as it was the germ of an idea about enhancing local literary culture, with the college acting as a facilitator. When I noted the ATS brief concerning organisational improvement, I felt that my proposal would fit, as my project was aimed at facilitating a gradually improved local reputation for our college, rather than encouraging a mass attendance of young people. 

The promotional strategy differed from school to school, with one local school sending an advertisement for the 'masterclasses' out to all parents, who then discussed the event with their children. Luckily, in the case of my project, the target group was fairly self-selecting, as the promise of discussing 'Romanticism versus Classicism,' for example, did not attract droves of students, whereas the other sessions, which had titles such as 'What is Psychology?' or 'What is Medical Science' were more like taster sessions for a broad range of students. I was able to accommodate the students around a circular table to create a discussion group ambience, and they gave me positive feedback. 

My manager, who delivered on the programme, told me that I had had a 'great initiative' and the vice principal told me that it could not have happened without me; this praise made me feel proud. I was grateful to be acknowledged, and glad that the outreach was deemed a success for the college and for me, but I don't think that the outreach project, as delivered, would attract non-managerial staff to participate. This is something that I consider in my recommendations below. 



  1. Allow enthusiastic staff to have autonomy in researching and embarking upon projects: empowering staff wins their trust and makes them more likely to commit to improvement projects.  
  2. Understand that in the case of outreach, multiple projects should be permissible. Independent projects are indicative of a dedicated learning community of trusted professionals, whereas intensive marketing-led campaign can create internal competition. 
  3. Promote relational trust between different departments, allowing staff from different departments to work together and pool resources and expertise. 
  4. Find a way to recognise the achievements of non-managerial staff embarking on volunteering projects: this is especially important in cases where low pay and contractual insecurity have become the norm. 
  5. Offer more mentoring schemes and remission to allow more mentoring to occur; this project would not have happened without my mentor. 
  6. Recognise that Gatsby benchmarks 5 (encounters with employers) and 7 (encounters with FE and HE) could be combined in outreach activity, e.g. students learning about educational work experience when doing A Level outreach. 
  7. Safeguarding is important, but it should not prevent educational projects if they are appropriately risk-assessed. 


Professional reading 

Bates, B (2019) Learning Theories Simplified (2nd edition), California, SAGE publications 

Council for learning outside the classroom: http//www.lotc.org.uk/what-where-why/why/ 

Crediton Courier: https://www.creditoncourier.co.uk/news/rural-broadband-issues-for-remote-education-largely-inadequate-in-chulmleigh-area151380 

Devon Live https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/terrible-internet-rural-devon-impacting-5039157 

Gatsby Benchmarks. Available at: https://www.gatsby.org.uk/education/focus-areas/good-career-guidance 

Hoy, K and Tschannen-Moren (1998) A conceptual and empirical analysis of trust in schools. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235295498_A_Conceptual_and_Empirical_Analysis_of_Trust_in_Schools 

Myatt, M (2019) The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence John Catt publications ltd 

UnitE (2017) Seven ways to supercharge student recruitment into FE colleges. Available at https://www.ess-unite.co.uk/resources/blog/7-ways-supercharge-student-recruitment-fe-colleges 

The Guardian 'Students don’t see the value' - why English Literature is in decline. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/aug/16/students-dont-see-value-a-level-english-decline