How combining literature and enterprise is raising attainment in one South London school

  • How combining literature and enterprise is raising attainment in one South London school

Combining literature and enterprise is changing attitudes to reading at Harris Girls’ Academy in Dulwich

Harris Girls’ Academy in East Dulwich has got a bookshop. An actual bookshop; run by students for students, in a school where vouchers are given as rewards to be spent on books. It came about following their annual literary festival, during which year 8 students competed to run a pop up bookshop, which gave English teacher Chris Brown an idea…

“After the festival, we carried out a survey which showed that less than 30% of students had ever visited a bookshop’’ recalls Chris. “The pleasure of owning books was something the school wanted to embrace and support, which lead to our collaboration with Moon Lane Ink in order to make the pop up store a more permanent feature.”

Enterprise days

‘Pop-Up Bookshop Enterprise Days’ are an innovation from award winning children’s bookshop Tales on Moon Lane, which has now started a social enterprise called Moon Lane Ink CIC. The experience sees facilitators from Moon Lane Ink, plus volunteers from the publishing industry, arrive at a school to run a full-day workshop. Students are taught how to put together a business plan and then split into teams where they allocate a variety of roles including finance, art direction and marketing.

At the end of the day the teams present their bookshop pitch to a panel of judges, which might include members of the SLT or school council, and the winning team go on to run their own pop-up book fair – with the added incentive of keeping the profits!

Since enterprise is a specialism of the Harris Federation such a workshop had a particular appeal – however, an added benefit was how it provided an opportunity for students who didn’t identify as especially ‘bookish’ to engage with literature, and encouraged recommendations between classmates of all abilities.

‘’We have students in lower English sets who have started to make noticeable improvements,” says Chris, “and whilst this isn’t simply down to the fact that they took part in the workshop, there is something in the fact that they saw themselves succeed in a challenge related to books; it also forged some friendships between students who were more enthusiastic readers’’

Promoting equality

Moon Lane Ink has as its mission to raise equality in children’s books. Equality of access; equality of representation; and equality of roles in the publishing industry. The enterprise workshops promote all three at once, bringing books to students who might not otherwise visit libraries or bookshops, and providing an inclusive range of titles which champions both characters and authors who are from otherwise underrepresented groups.

Chris adds, “With the narrowing of the exam curriculum it’s important to let students read books from a broader background and to find voices that reflect their experiences.”

The workshops are also attended by volunteers from the publishing industry, giving students a chance to have a meaningful interaction with someone from the world of work, providing exposure and potential pathways into publishing. The idea of getting more children from diverse backgrounds to consider a career in publishing is fundamental to the long term goals of inclusivity that the industry is currently setting out; the next stage is to support work experience in publishing and to help prepare students with an interest in this area to excel.

In the meantime the Harris Girls’ Academy bookshop continues to flourish, and has provided a cultural shift in this South London school. The institution’s rewards system has been revolutionised: an online points system that used to give students plastic toys or sweets at the end of term has been replaced by vouchers to spend in the bookshop – and whilst that does include revision and subject specific materials, it allows learners to access classic and contemporary fiction, too.

One of the students coming in to spend a voucher even said that it was the first book she’d ever had of her own. As Chris observes, ‘’To have that kind of impact is remarkable.’’

To find out more about Moon Lane Ink’s Pop-Up Bookshop Enterprise Days, visit moonlaneink.co.uk

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