First Story hasn’t stopped working through the pandemic. This autumn term, new programmes are running in partnership with schools in London, East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, where we are helping to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable young people’s education, mental health, and life chances.
As an organisation that delivers extra-curricular provision in schools, this academic year has presented some unprecedented challenges. Since the first national lockdown in March, we’ve been continually reviewing and adapted our offer to ensure vulnerable young people in communities like Leicester, Nottingham, Hull, and Bradford—parts of the UK among those hardest hit by the pandemic—continue to benefit. We know our provision has much to contribute, inspiring engagement with learning across the curriculum, while supporting young people’s social and emotional well-being.
We are navigating the challenges—from complying with COVID health and safety restrictions, to technology issues, and managing ‘bubbles within bubbles’—with energy and ideas and we’re proud to have so many First Story groups starting their Young Writers Programme journey this autumn.
For us, First Story is one of the very few clubs that has been allowed to go ahead this term because of the value it adds to our students’ literacy development and how this impacts their success in other areas of the curriculum.Lauren Allen, LRC Manager – Chelsea Academy, London
Most of our partner schools this year wanted to retain in-person group writing workshops, which are the heart of First Story’s Young Writers Programme. Our Writers-in-Residence have shown great commitment in meeting the needs and requirements of individual schools, adapting sessions to be COVID-compliant and socially-distanced. It has been a joy to see them back in the classroom, inspiring and supporting young people.
Lauren Allen, the LRC Manager at Chelsea Academy in London, told us why it’s so important for her students: “For us, First Story is one of the very few clubs that has been allowed to go ahead this term because of the value it adds to our students’ literacy development and how this impacts their success in other areas of the curriculum. We had to change things slightly this year – we usually open First Story up to all year groups, but this wasn’t possible this time due to the groupings required for social bubbles. We decided to offer the programme to Year 7 only for several reasons; one being that First Story can act as an excellent way to boost their literacy skills after months at home, and another being that the programme is a much needed treat for our new students after starting off their secondary school journeys slightly more bumpy than previous year groups. It has been a wonderful way for them to settle in and get comfortable with ‘big school’ life. Students have been overwhelmingly positive and are so excited to become published authors. Combined with our other reading, writing and literacy projects that we implement, First Story has really contributed to the buzz and love of literacy at Chelsea Academy.”
Some of our schools this year are necessarily managing the public health crisis with stricter restrictions on external visitors. Where in-person workshops are not currently permissible, our writers are delivering virtual sessions with great success. In Bradford, Appleton Academy’s Writer-in-Residence, Nick Toczek has delivered writing workshops with his First Story group via video calls.
Dan Ingram-Brown is another of our writers blending physical and digital provision for his residency—incredibly, including a website and specially created videos.
New delivery models
In the summer term, we consulted extensively with over 40 partner schools to develop a more flexible programme for the 2020/21 academic year. In addition to offering blended learning, we heard clearly that we needed to accommodate more flexible timetabling, as well as creating alternative programme delivery models, to help reduce barriers to participation. This year, there are three alternative delivery models that schools can choose from, offering flexibility around things like cohort sizes and the number and timing of workshop sessions. These new programme models have the potential to increase reach and widen impact.
…having the writer in regular English lessons seemed like the perfect solution and has the added benefit of broadening our reach and promoting writing at a school-wide level.Molly Dewhirst, English Teacher – Hampstead School, North London
To work around the challenge of tightly controlled form group ‘bubbles’, Hampstead School in North London is trialing an adapted First Story programme model this year. Their Writer-in-Residence will deliver a classroom-based ‘taster’ workshop for every Year 9 form group during the Autumn term. In the Spring term, it is intended that up to 20 participants will be selected to form a smaller cohort and continue working intensively towards a printed anthology.
First Story lead teacher at Hampstead School, Molly Dewhirst, explained why adaptations were necessary this year: “We think that having our writer spend time in English classes with each of our year 9 form groups will be a great opportunity for the students; we’re so excited for them all to get a chance to write, and think that having them do this alongside their English teacher will send a powerful message to the whole year group about the value of creative writing. Planning First Story this year we knew that our small class bubbles and cleaning rota would make usual First Story writing sessions impossible, so having the writer in regular English lessons seemed like the perfect solution and has the added benefit of broadening our reach and promoting writing at a school-wide level.”
Since the lockdown, we have also invested in developing high-quality creative writing teaching and learning resources that can be shared freely to support partner schools. First Story’s new classroom resources, which feed into streams of work schools already prioritise, such as Black History Month, LGBT+ History Month, and International Women’s Day, are intended to promote cross-curricular engagement with creative writing.
We are also producing high-quality resources to support our programme of Connect events this year. Until we can stage events again in person, we are working with our university partners and talented writers to produce video tutorials and classroom resources, reinforcing the message that our young writers should feel entitled to participate in the arts and higher education.
Teachers: it’s not too late to bring First Story’s transformative Young Writers Programme to your school in the spring term. Get in touch to discuss how we can adapt our provision to meet the needs of your school and its young people.