Decolonising the English A-Level Project: EDI and Funding Success!
Hello! I am Hannah, a third-year PhD student; sessional lecturer in English Literature; Postgraduate Lead for the ‘Widening Participation in Research’ project at the University of Salford; and newly appointed as Research Assistant and Impact and Engagement Fellow for South African Modernism: 1880-2020.
I am also part of the ‘Decolonising the English Literature A-Level’ teaching team, which includes Emma Barnes, Natalie Ilsley, Jade Munslow Ong, and our excellent new recruit, Katie Barnes. Since November 2020, I have visited various colleges and sixth forms across the North West to deliver lectures and workshops on South African literature.
Between October 2022 – January 2023, our team celebrated various funding successes! We were delighted to secure £4923.36 from the Research Impact and Public Engagement fund from the University of Salford to continue our ‘Decolonising the English Literature A-Level’ project this academic year (September 2022 – June 2023). The grant will enable us to co-design and deliver lectures and workshops for 16–18-year-old learners; establish and develop ongoing relationships with Further Education providers; and track and analyse the impacts of our research and teaching beyond academia.
In addition, we received £2710.00 from the AHRC North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP). This grant will fund the creation of an open access online toolkit for teaching, and increased dissemination of the project activities and research through a collaboration with National College Podcast – the only podcast dedicated to people studying at college or sixth form in the UK.
Friday 13th is considered unlucky for some, but not for us! On this date in January, we were also awarded £3850.00 in QR funding from the University of Salford. With this money, the project team will undergo a five-day writing retreat in June to produce a co-authored article about our school impact activities. Two additional QR grants have been used to appoint me as Research Assistant and Impact and Engagement Fellow on the South African Modernism 1880-2020 project until July 2023.
The team has always aimed to support different abilities and learners, but my new role as Impact and Engagement Fellow offers a timely opportunity to address Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) issues in more focused ways. For example, our learning materials and chosen methods of data collection and analysis (i.e. written student postcards and questionnaires) will be produced in multiple forms as standard, including as large-print materials for students with visual disabilities and as Braille. We will also ensure that we share handouts and materials well ahead of time to accommodate neurodiverse students or those whose first language is not English. I will also undergo a training course at the Manchester Deaf Centre to learn basic sign language, which will enable me to better communicate with and accommodate Deaf students. This is just the start of the work we hope to do.
Last year, I visited Burnley College (February 2022), Rivington and Blackrod Sixth Form (February 2022), and Sale Grammar (April 2022). I gave lectures on postcolonial and Marxist theories, and delivered workshops in which students looked at texts including Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm (1883), Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), and Peter Abrahams’s Mine Boy (1946). The students were invited to take part in a range of exercises, including comparative analysis and close reading tasks, analysis of secondary source material, and friendly debate-style discussions about the literature.
The students were fantastic. I was blown away by their enthusiasm, engagement, and insightful comments about the texts and topics at hand, with one student stating: ‘I really enjoyed the introduction to more diverse areas in literature. The historical context surrounding the subjects discussed interested me and made me inclined to look into the future reading provided’ (student participant, February 2022). Other feedback was equally lovely: ‘I really enjoyed the way it was presented – you are a good and captivating speaker. It was very relevant to our course, and I liked the interactivity of it. I think you would be a smashing teacher can’t lie’ (student participant, April 2022). This year, the team aims to develop and expand the range and forms of primary texts used in the lectures and workshops across a wider range of A-Level assessment components and exam boards.
As part of my role as Postgraduate Lead for the ‘Widening Participation in Research’ project, I collaborate with two other postgraduate students at the University of Salford to develop training sessions, resources and toolkits, and extracurricular events to address EDI issues and enhance the student experience. I am also currently designing and delivering a Widening Participation summer programme (July 2023) for a group of underrepresented undergraduate students at the university, including ethnically minoritised students, students with disabilities, mature students, and first-generation students. It is my hope that participating in this programme will enable students to improve their academic and interpersonal skills and consider postgraduate study in the future.
The knowledge and approaches that I’ve learned and developed as Widening Participation Lead will be used to more explicitly and directly address EDI issues in our work with sixth forms and colleges this year. Already, the lectures, workshops, learning materials, and other outreach activities associated with this project are designed and delivered with issues of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in mind. All individuals involved in this project are treated equally and fairly regardless of their age, gender, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other background factors. The team works hard to create a positive and inclusive culture centred on mutual respect and support for each other, the issues and topics under discussion, and all participants who benefit from our work. The team recognises that some individuals and groups involved in the project may be disadvantaged as a result of social or other factors. However, by fostering a supportive learning environment in which each participant feels valued and included, we hope to be able to better communicate with, and inspire, students as we support their preparation for A-Level assessments.
If you would like to know more about our work or are interested in arranging lectures and workshops for your students, then please get in touch! You can contact the teaching team (Jade, Emma, Hannah, Katie, and Natalie) on firstname.lastname@example.org.