Aim: To seek ways to enthuse A Level English students to pursue further study of English-related courses at higher education (HE) level.

Background: It had been noted that the study of English at university by HC College leavers had declined. There seemed to be a need to clarify the aims and outcomes of an English degree course, and also describe the possible professions open to those who have an English degree, which therefore made it worth the tuition fees. According to HC College UCAS statistics, it was noted that students were less likely to try for a ‘red brick’ or Sutton Trust university unless it was local; so a second consideration was to encourage students to consider a more diverse range of universities.

Method: Meeting the English staff at a number of local universities such as the Universities of Huddersfield and Sheffield during conferences for A Level English staff allowed an understanding of the varied range of English courses that are available to students and what was expected from first year undergraduates in terms of academic study. The link with universities also highlighted conferences concerning the possibilities of an A Level in Linguistics. This alternative study may be of particular interest to students who enjoy the ‘scientific’ aspect of Linguistics.

Sixth Form students who were studying English A Level at Hyde Clarendon were interviewed. The English A Level choices were mainly based on liking the subject and/or the achievement of higher GCSE score (literature or language). For those students who had already seen English study as a possible choice at HE level, most thought of becoming teachers as they saw no other possible career paths. Most seemed to assume English was a ‘softer’ subject yet many of these students struggled to achieve high grades in their work. When further probed students said that they viewed the sciences as ‘hard’ A Levels.

Evidence: Student questionnaires, focus groups, UCAS information.

Impact: Students’ responses and attitudes towards the area of English study were surprising and showed, perhaps, cultural and social contexts that need to be taken into account when trying to ‘enthuse’ students about what and where to study.

Number of students going on to study English-related courses at university:

  • 2010: 1
  • 2011: 7
  • 2012: 1
  • 2013: 3

A bursary system for students who have high GCSE grades in a number of traditional subjects, including English, is available for all students. By way of ongoing and very supportive pastoral tutoring and guidance available at the College, and the fact that universities now have a number of varied English courses, the hope is that more English students may now wish to apply to prestigious universities.

Reflections: The time constraints were the main challenges that were difficult to overcome in a busy day-to-day educational environment.