Sussex Writes: Transforming Outcomes through Cross-sector Creative Writing Communities

Emma NewportMMub

In 2017, the School of English launched a new creative writing initiative, Sussex Writes, developed in conjunction with Dr Mark Fairbanks and piloted at Beacon Academy. Exam-condition creative writing was introduced for the first time in summer 2016 to replace the old model of creative writing coursework at GCSE. Students struggle with formulaic writing, frequently becoming resistant to writing creatively. Partner schools identify a gap in children’s attainment as teaching creative writing is a challenging area, not least because it is given little attention during PGCE training. Due to curriculum changes, the study of English has become more prescriptive and emphasises the functional; creative writing remains a rare arena for self-expression and exploration, yet the change in assessment has detracted from these possibilities. Barriers to attainment and access are often linked to crises of confidence. Significantly, since these changes, pupil uptake of A Level English has dropped by over 20%, which correlates with similar figures at HE.

Sussex Writes connects the University of Sussex with local schools via student-led creative writing workshops in local classrooms for students in Years 7-11. We primarily work with students who are first generation, PP, FSM and/or BAME. Writing talent and experiment is multi-generational and barrier-free: creative writing is vital to community experience and cohesion and is critical to addressing inequality through developing confidence and overcoming barriers to attainment. The Sussex Writes team is recruited from across the university, leading to meaningful collaboration between UG and PG students from the Schools of Education; Media, Film and Music; Psychology; Drama and English. Sussex Writes welcomes international students, so the programme has benefitted from the experience of teachers from Nigeria and students from the USA, Australia and across Europe, who have helped lead workshops and run the programme.

By involving UG and PG students, Sussex Writes creates a safe space for secondary students to play with words and ideas; the HE students gain valuable experiences in the classroom and help realise and facilitate the application of English in the real world. Another powerful aspect of the programme is the opportunity for secondary students to meet undergraduates – especially undergraduates passionate about the further study of English. The programme encourages more students to pursue the study of English beyond the compulsory level of GCSE.

Sussex Writes is now developing a rich online multi-level platform, which gives additional opportunities for HE students to develop employability skills as they help create and manage the site; roles are mapped onto job descriptions issued by recruiters. Furthermore, the website functions as a real-world space for secondary students to share their creative outputs. The programme is now examining how to address global as well as local challenges in the teaching of English and creativity, including recruiting international educators to create a cross-cultural exchange of practice.

The roundtable represents those involved in secondary education in the UK and Nigeria, in HE and includes the UG/PG students who deliver the programme. After a brief introduction to Sussex Writes, contributors will discuss questions including: how changes to the curriculum have impacted studying English and how schools and the HE sector can collaborate to minimise these impacts; how creative writing helps widen participation; what role creative writing can have in bridging educational and social change; to question the ways the HE sector works with schools and to examine ways of increasing collaboration and reciprocity, particularly in developing curricula and pedagogical practice in both HE and school settings; to reflect critically on the innovations in the methods for inclusion and engagement in the Sussex Writes model. The panel will then conclude in an open forum with the audience.

Sat 2:15 pm - 3:30 pm