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Pilot National College Writing Project putting student voice at the heart of colleges

05 January 2022

By Eddie Playfair

Students spend a lot of time writing. Many of their tasks and assessments require it but it is generally fairly constrained in its form and content. Not all students have regular opportunities to practice writing for pleasure. Creative writing, like reading can be a great way for students to develop their confidence and expressive skills and to explore their experience and imagination.

AoC, in association with the English and Media Centre, is planning to launch a national college creative writing project in 2022 to encourage all college students to write more, including those who are least confident about expressing themselves in writing. The project would also aim to develop some high-quality stimulus materials for students and to connect colleges with a diverse range of published writers and poets, to support writing workshops and reading groups. We also hope to develop supporting materials for staff who may not be English teachers and to raise the profile of creative writing across Further Education.

To test the sectors’ interest in the idea, we ran a short pilot in Autumn 2021 and 10 colleges across the country volunteered to participate. The colleges were provided with a range of very open writing briefs which they could use with students in any way they chose. Some incorporated this into taught English classes, others ran an open college-wide challenge or linked it to an existing creative writing enrichment activity.

The briefs invited students to write in any style or form they wanted e.g. a story, a poem or song lyric, a play or TV / film script or a journalistic report. The suggesting launching off points included prompts such as: “I remember…” , “I often wonder…”, “What the world needs is…”, “Something that makes me really happy…”, “Something that really upsets me…”, “We’re running out of time…”, “The search…”. These could be treated as starters or as themes.

The pilot showed that there is a tremendous appetite from staff and students for national recognition for this kind of work. Over 360 students submitted pieces of various lengths and in various genres and the writing is often very powerful and expressive, saying important things about the authors’ lives and aspirations.

The feedback from students and staff was extremely positive and the project reached a broad range of students, including students studying for GCSE resits and former refugees who are early-stage users of English.

Many of the students involved commented that they would not have attempted to write were it not for the project and that they now feel more confident with their writing as a result. Staff valued the flexibility of the very open briefs and the fact that they could decide for themselves how to present the project to students in their college.

Reading the submissions, there’s no doubt that college students have a lot to say and can say it very effectively. We will be publishing some of the students’ work from the pilot on the Love Our Colleges website early in 2022 and the possibility of publication within a national anthology will also provide additional motivation.

AoC Sport and Student Experience working with AoC Projects hope to secure some external funding for a more ambitious roll-out in 2022 and we look forward to taking the project further.

Eddie Playfair is Senior Policy Manager at AoC