For many young people, the world of literature can seem remote and forbidding. Our Schools Outreach Programme seeks to change this.
Children should not only read great writers, but meet them in the flesh. The RSL’s Schools Outreach Programme, which makes this possible, is a thrilling initiative.
We work to provide pupils in challenging* state secondary schools with the opportunity to meet some of the country’s greatest writers.
If you can get kids reading early, and they have at least one supportive parent, no matter what their ethnicity or social class they are off to a good start. I believe that passionately.
Alan Johnson, MP
Winner of the 2014 RSL Ondaatje Prize
The Story so far
The RSL Outreach Programme was conceived in collaboration with the charity First Story, which arranges for established authors to run creative writing workshops with students in challenging(( ‘Challenging’ refers to schools in which more than 50 per cent of pupils are considered deprived according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) or in which GCSE results fall in the lowest third of the national distribution.)) schools. The pilot programme began in 2012, with Sebastian Faulks visiting Mulberry School for Girls in Whitechapel, London.
The students were captivated by the writer who was warm, accessible and autobiographical. He opened the students’ eyes to the profound possibilities of literature and his own creative process.
Teacher, Mulberry School
Since then, we have organised visits to schools in London, Oxford, Bradford, Cheltenham and Exeter. Fellows who have visited schools include: John Agard, Patience Agbabi, David Almond, Malorie Blackman, Lord Melvynn Bragg, Kate Clanchy, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Margaret Drabble, Ian Duhig, Bernadine Evaristo, Sebastian Faulks, Michael Frayn, Adèle Geras, Victoria Glendinning, Tessa Hadley, Steve Jones, Blake Morrison, Andrew Motion, Daljit Nagra, Grace Nichols, Kamila Shamsie, Tom Stoppard and Colin Thubron
Lord Melvyn Bragg visited Willowfield Humanities College where he spoke to students about reading and writing, and how family, mentors and scholarships helped him along the way. He inspired the pupils with a range of thoughts and ideas, from the importance of writing the ordinary to advice on television presenting. Read letters from Willowfield students sent to Lord Bragg and the RSL here.
Sebastian Faulks spoke and read to about 60 pupils at Forest Gate school in Newham – he read Thom Gunn’s poem, Considering The Snail and an extract of Orwell written during his post in Burma. Lively and engaging, he fielded a range of questions and spoke happily about reading, cricket, James Bond and writing.
Stephen Kelman held a workshop based on a central theme of his novel Pigeon English; tolerance. Despite being a sunny Friday afternoon, Stephen engaged a mix of pupils from Cranford Community College in writing their own stories of a new experience with fantastic results. He was generous with his time and gave excellent advice on writing to attentive students.
Overall, more than 90% of the students claimed to have been inspired to both read and write more in their free time as a result of the programme, and found the talks interesting and informative, giving them access that they would not otherwise have had to the works and lifestyle of prominent authors.
Writing is a possible career option, as well as something you can enjoy on the side of having a real job – and then even though the pay isn’t always amazing, the fulfilment makes it worthwhile.
King Solomon’s Academy, Year 11
I couldn’t believe it. It was enthralling to listen to Tom Stoppard. He’s really inspired me to keep writing and keep trying.
George Greens School, Year 9
Plans for the future
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The RSL receives no government or public funding. We depend upon the generosity of donors to run our education programme.
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