"A Thing that Makes me Happy"

By Sean Cumming of the National Literacy Trust

Images: Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)

Poets have always been inspired by nature. We want to tap into this tradition, but rather than it being merely the subject of poetry we hope that our collaboration with the RSPB will allow pupils to both be inspired by, and learn from, the world around them.

The Young Poets programme from the National Literacy Trust aims to engage reluctant writers through a programme of visits to local cultural venues, writing workshops, visits by local poets, and by providing a real audience and purpose for their writing.

We work with schools serving communities experiencing financial disadvantage because we know their pupils are disproportionately likely to underachieve in writing tests at the end of KS2 and in their English GCSE. Focussing on improving young people’s enjoyment of and attitudes towards writing can have positive impact on their writing skills.

Our research consistently shows that children receiving free school meals are more likely to engage with poetry in their own time. More broadly, poetry is having something of a renaissance in popular culture. Neilsen Bookscan report that 2021 had the highest figure for poetry sales they have ever recorded, £1.82 billion.

 This is combined with an increase in outlets for poetry writers, from Insta-poetry to performance poetry on Tiktok and Youtube, to more conventional magazines and journals. As a result, poetry offers an opportunity to engage with those young people who are at risk of falling behind with their writing.

Reports by the Prince’s Trust and Royal Mail, along with our, also indicate the benefits of writing to young people’s wellbeing. The Prince’s Trust report identifies several benefits to writing including:

“….enhancing their self-awareness, supporting self-regulation (helping to manage thoughts, emotions and behaviours) enforcing a sense of self, and support them to reach self-fulfilment, supporting relationships and communities.”

Evaluation of our programme show that two thirds of pupils participating in the programme agree that poetry, “…is a great way to express myself and my feelings.”

During the pandemic the education sector has had to find innovative solutions to continue supporting children’s learning. Our response was to explore a range of alternative ways to inspire pupils to write. The obvious choice was to turn to nature, and our local environment, as a source of inspiration and a venue for exploration.

This is the process of writing poetry we hope to promote: writing inspired by and flowing from an active engagement with the world outside. We hope that through this process pupils will develop a love of writing.

By Sean Cumming of National Literacy Trust