Innovative Practice - The write stuff

6th April 2012 at 01:00
Using creative writing workshops to engage 'invisible' children and get them excited about learning

The background

The pupils who are the most eager or the most disruptive tend to be the ones who get the bulk of attention from teachers. However, increasing concerns have been raised about the "invisible" children in the class - the ones who sit there quietly but that are not actually engaged. The issue has been treated more seriously since the publication in 1998 of an Open University study, Playing Truant in Mind: the social exclusion of quiet pupils.

Emma Metcalfe saw the problem herself while carrying out a three-year project for Bath and North East Somerset Council and the University of Bath into how to develop young boys' writing.

She believed that a long-term creative writing project was needed to engage peripheral pupils. She approached Bath Festivals, which organises festivals and outreach projects, and secured funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, a grant-making organisation that focuses on education and social justice. The Write Team was born.

The project

The Write Team provides weekly creative writing workshops for schools, developed by professional writers, in order to improve pupils' confidence in their writing and learning. Teachers also attend these workshops and are required to keep a diary of their own writing and how the work is affecting their teaching.

Each term, participating schools are visited by a professional writer who works with pupils to reinforce the techniques they have learned. The writers also lead Inset days with teachers to help develop their own creative writing and teaching.

The pilot of the project, run between 2009 and 2011, involved 11 schools, either invited to take part or chosen by their local authority.

One lead teacher says her initial motivations to take part came from "guilt that the majority of teachers have about those pupils whose name they still do not know in the fourth week of term".

The project also allowed the schools to take part in the Bath Literature Festival, the Bath Festival of Children's Literature and the Egg theatre, including giving pupils the opportunity to put on dramatic performances.

"Some teachers were initially cautious about the purpose and value of the project," Metcalfe explains. "They would fail to attend the weekly workshops and were reluctant to write. However, their reservations were overcome through attending the Write Team conferences and pupils' drama performances at a local theatre."

Tips from the scheme

"Talk to us," Metcalfe says. The team are more than willing to help schools that want to implement similar projects.

Planning is important - schools need to identify the specific writing needs of their staff and pupils in order to develop effective teaching materials and techniques.

Evidence that it works?

Pupils attribute positive changes in their learning to the project. In the first year, 86 per cent of pupils said that it had helped them feel they were improving academically and 58 per cent linked it to their increased participation in lessons.

Schools that took part have continued the practices introduced by the project. Three out of the 11 institutions implemented whole-staff cross-curricular training to spread the practice, 10 incorporated Write Team techniques into future teaching plans, seven established writing clubs to continue the work and five have shared what they have learned with other institutions.


Approach: Improving levels of pupil engagement through creative writing workshops and teaching techniques developed by professional writers Started 2009

Leader: Emma Metcalfe, project manager


Collins, J. Playing Truant in Mind: the social exclusion of quiet pupils, a paper presented to the 1998 British Educational Research Association annual conference


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