Well Versed project comes to an end in Norfolk

As a year-long poetry initiative comes to an end in Norfolk, Eastern Daily Press reporter, Donna-Louise Bishop, takes a look at how successful the Well Versed project has been in the county.

Schools across Norfolk have been nurturing the next generation of literary stars by getting students involved in a scheme designed to get them reading and writing poetry.

The Writer's Centre Norwich (WCN), in Princes Street, Norwich, launched its innovative pilot to encourage high-quality poetry teaching in Norfolk's schools.

The year-long scheme is one of three pilots taking place in England and aims to develop new certificates and courses for teachers and trainee teachers, trial innovative approaches to poetry in the curriculum, introduce work with emerging and established poets and boost teacher confidence.

The other two regional pilots are being led by New Writing North and Writing West Midlands and the WCN's pilot has specifically focused on live literature and new technology to encourage the use of poetry across the whole curriculum.

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Year-nine pupils at Attleborough High School took part in workshops which saw the teenagers write alliterative poems, explore how riddles form the basis of metaphors and look at narrative.

English teacher Caroline Graham said: 'I have seen an enthusiastic outpouring of creativity from the year-nine students and they are now writing poetry with confidence, flair and enthusiasm.'

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Mary Ellen, head of English, added: 'The project has proved to be a huge success.'

Also praising the project were year-nine students and teachers from Northgate High School, Dereham, the first school in the country to hold Well Versed workshops.

English teacher Kira Haslam wanted to show how varied poetry can be and said: 'I think, for many pupils, poetry can seem difficult or alien because it isn't part of their every day lives. It's a project that has been very beneficial to me both on a personal and professional level.

'It's helped me to reconsider the methods I use to engage pupils with poetry and armed me with an array of techniques and approaches.

'I have absolutely no doubt that it has benefited the pupils who participated.'

Holly Ward, 14, from Scarning, took part and said: 'I used to think it was just things like Shakespeare's sonnets. Now I know you can mix it all up, make it funny and suit it to your personality.'

Younger writers were also encouraged to get involved and pupils from Wicklewood Junior School, near Wymondham, took inspiration from nature, food, relationships, emotions and even the recent Japanese tsunami to put together an impressive line-up of literature.

Headteacher Sheila Greenacre said she was very proud of the work her pupils had created.

'I think poetry is good for children,' she said.

'They can put ideas into it very easily and it's something that works for them and they can use as a vehicle to express themselves more than they would normally.'

Although the programme does not officially end until later this year, the WCN will be using the remaining few months to focus its efforts into collecting and evaluating the results of the programme to take to a national conference in London in November.

Well Versed was a response to the Ofsted report into Poetry in Schools and the Arts Council England's Thrive! Poetry Project report which both stated that many teachers do not feel confident teaching poetry and that further support was needed.

Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, who was talking about the issues of teaching poetry in schools at a WCN event last year, said: 'This scheme has the potential to create and then support deep structures which will be of very great long-term benefit to poetry – giving knowledge and confidence to teachers and also to students.'

• donna-louise.bishop@archant.co.uk

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