Creative writing external assessment unlikely to be exam-based

Elizabeth Buie

Creative writing is unlikely to be assessed under exam hall conditions, as plans were unveiled to reintroduce it to the externally- assessed part of the Higher English examination from next year.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has confirmed that the main options under consideration are the introduction of an externally- assessed folio or a prepared essay, which would be externally assessed.

Scotland's exams body has been consulting teachers, headteachers, its own examiners and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) on the reintroduction of the creative writing and discursive report elements to the final external exam.

In the aftermath of the SQA crisis of 2000, Higher English was revised and creative writing and report writing were dropped from the externally- assessed part of the course. The move was in response to concerns about teachers' assessment burden across the board.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, who, as a Glasgow headteacher, chaired the English and Communication review group in 2001, explained that his group had to meet very tight criteria for assessment arrangements set by the SQA at the time. That made it "impossible" to include creative and report writing in the final exam, although both elements were still assessed internally as part of the course.

He acknowledged, however: "Because they were not in the final grade, they lost their place in the sun."

His group also examined concerns that teachers would be pressurised by pupils, parents and even education authorities to help in the redrafting of folios so that students gained a higher mark, he said.

These pressures had not disappeared, he warned.

Mr Cunningham also predicted that the inclusion of creative writing in the final graded mark could lead to results going up. In 2003, the first year that the creative writing element was removed from Higher English, only 59.2 per cent of candidates passed compared to 64.7 per cent the previous year.

"It is much easier to mark close reading consistently than to mark a piece of creative writing. If you are going to shift the balance of the assessable elements, this will shift the nature of the results that come out," he added.

Larry Flanagan, education convener of the EIS and a principal teacher of English in a Glasgow secondary, played down suggestions that the move would place greater pressures on teachers.

He suggested that the Higher exam should mirror the creative writing element of Advanced Higher - "and no one seems to have any concerns about that".

Mr Flanagan insisted that as long as folio work was carried out under controlled conditions, it should work well.

The SQA plans to put the changes in place by the spring of 2010, with first certification in August, 2011.

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Elizabeth Buie

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