The book Quest
The Widening Participation and Outreach team at the University of Surrey and the Higher Education and Outreach Network (HEON) aim to work with under-represented students to support their aspirations, attainment and overall confidence to succeed in their secondary education and beyond.
The global pandemic had wide-spread implications for the education sector and the closure of schools meant under-represented students’ education was likely to be further impacted and the pre-existing gap widened. At a time where digital learning was taking precedent, we understood the importance of offering a non-digital option so that access to IT was not a barrier. We explored ways to offer an option that counteracted the increased time spent on screens. The Book Quest project was developed to support this, as a blended book club with physical and digital elements for Years 7 to 11.
“It was good for [my son] to participate as he tried out different authors and genres that he wouldn’t have chosen for himself.”Parent of a Book Quest participant
The Book Quest project aimed to provide students with easy access to a mixed-range of literature that represented different characters, voices and situations as well as giving a sense of belonging, by being a member of the quest and therefore the virtual book group. Our goal was to encourage and promote reading for pleasure as well as supporting students to enhance their reading and comprehension skills through the series of pursuits, expeditions and assignments that were available. To provide a mixed-range of literature and create a sense of belonging we created a book group for students from Years 7-8 and Years 9-11. The separate quests for KS3 and KS4 meant we could ensure the books were appropriate and relevant to those year groups.
I learnt many new words, some writing techniques I don’t know before.Student participant
The outcomes of this project were that students engaged with books and the online resources available and found it beneficial to support their reading skills. The unexpected outcomes were how beneficial the quest was in developing vocabulary and confidence for those students who have English as an additional language. As well as how the books engaged reluctant readers to try new books and talk with school staff about the books they were reading.
The Book Quest had 78 students involved in the programme and of those students, 79% met one or more of the WP criteria we work towards. The project’s impact predominantly came from the enthusiasm and engagement for reading that it brought to students.
Unexpectedly students were highly confident in their reading and English abilities prior to the programme meaning there was minimal improvement or impact for that aim. However, there were some positive improvements to students’ knowledge and attitudes:
• 100% of students were more confident that they could apply their reading skills to their future studies.
• 80% of students felt more confident in their self after completing the Book Quest.
• 90% of students felt more motivated to work hard at school to achieve their full potential.
Many parents/carers said they felt their child had enjoyed and benefited from Book Quest. Many thought it beneficial that their child had been obliged to try books that they would not have usually chosen for themselves.
The Book Quest has been recognised by two organisations. Firstly the Office for Students which is the independent regulator for higher education in England cited the project in a recent briefing note looking at outreach delivery during the pandemic. This can be viewed below.
The project has also won the HELOA Best Practice Collaboration Award 2021. The HELOA organisation is the professional association of staff in higher education who work in student recruitment, outreach, marketing and admissions. The team are very honoured to be one of two shortlisted for this award.
“This opportunity to engage with the written word, and all of the human experiences within, was especially important at a time when people felt isolated. The project had high levels of engagement, including from people who may not historically have joined in. The books were well chosen, and the supporting website was fantastic to help improve insight.” –School Principal