Magazine article English Drama Media

Too Good to Be True? Krys Kotylo, a Teacher Involved with the Arvon Education Project Writing the Game, Describes His Experience Working with the Foundation

Magazine article English Drama Media

Too Good to Be True? Krys Kotylo, a Teacher Involved with the Arvon Education Project Writing the Game, Describes His Experience Working with the Foundation

Article excerpt

Has anyone ever told you that 'if something sounds like it's too good to be true, it almost certainly will be'?

Two years ago, I received the following message from our Local Authority Consultant: 'The Arvon Foundation are offering a free, week-long residential to a school in a disadvantaged area within the Barnsley--we thought of you--it sounds almost too good to be true!'

I was slightly suspicious, but I contacted The Arvon Foundation and it wasn't a hoax! We had been offered a residential visit, in a truly inspirational setting, with pupils living, cooking, cleaning and writing together, tutored by two professional writers, and a day to be spent working with Ian Macmillan (poet, presenter and all round funny man). FREE! Oh, and the house we'd be staying in was once home to Ted Hughes. His image hangs impressively on the wall above the log fire chimney breast at the head of a candle-lit banquet-style dining table; he 'oversees' the proceedings. I had to pinch myself.

Barnsley ranks as the 16th most deprived district out of 354 English districts in the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2000. What's more, Athersley, where our school is and where our pupils live, falls within the most deprived 10% of English wards. Although one or two pupils vocalised their exception to the term 'disadvantaged', the concerns quietened when they realised the course would have cost in the region of 400 [pounds sterling] per pupil to attend. We all started to feel as though we had been invited to something special and good things started to happen ...

Writing the Game

The residential re-energised my approach to teaching English at GCSE. In preparation for the football based theme of 'Writing the Game', Barnsley Football Club provided complimentary tickets to one of their league matches. On a Tuesday afternoon in early spring, instead of going home at 3pm, the pupils stayed in school and, in teams, had a pizza-making competition to prepare them for the experience of cooking together whilst away on residential. After dinner, we went to the match! In English the next day, we wrote descriptively about the experience.

In fact, we were suddenly awash with ready-made ideas and ways to bring in real purpose, real audience and real 'functionality' into reading, writing and speaking tasks. The residential provided a stimulus and a focal point which meant previously 'routine' classroom tasks became far more engaging and exciting for pupils. We drafted, and re-drafted, letters to parents persuading them to give consent for the trip; we analysed the email dialogue between the centre director and the school. We discussed the language and imagery in Ted Hughes' poem 'Football at Slack' (Slack Top is a short-hike-up-a-very-steep-hill away from the centre at Lumb Bank) and was used as the setting for our own football match before we, in turn, wrote our pieces with Ted's title. Consequently the skills required for the English GCSE were complemented and reinforced in a real context, and we had fun doing it!

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

If this all sounds like a magical, almost utopian situation, that's exactly how it felt. And it got better. When the pupils arrived at Lumb Bank, they were blown away by the setting. This only increased when they were introduced to the two professional writers Nic Stimson (playwright) and Anthony Clavane (chief sportswriter for the Sunday Mirror)--who became personal tutors to the pupils during the week. I remember pinning up the itinerary in the staffroom before we left and thinking 'people will think this is a joke! …

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