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Let those who write help teach

Philip Pullman's recent article (TES, February 8) has instigated a much-needed debate on the future of English teaching.

As an author (I was on the same Carnegie shortlist as Philip), and a teacher and author-in-residence working in schools five days a week, I straddle both sides of the discussion.

From this - sometimes uncomfortable - position, I'd like to raise two issues. The first is this: does Philip's rallying call strike a note for those of us who have been working within the parameters of the National Literacy Strategy?

He says: "If joy isn't nourishing the roots of the work, it's never going to show in the flower." I am absolutely convinced that there have been some extremely joyless literacy hours, with pressured teachers.

It should be remembered that context is everything. In the early days the strategy was introduced at top-down, read-from-the script conferences with little room for argument and policed by Woodhead's regime. This produced problems such as crude teaching to the tests.

The second question which follows is obvious: can we engage creatively within the strategy framework?

I am lucky enough to be enjoying wonderful days teaching creative writing, developing the confidence of young writers and their understanding of grammar in context. What is most evident in these sessions is Philip's requirement of joy in writing.

Structure can, given the right encouragement, be a trampoline rather than a strait-jacket giving the young writer a repertoire of skills, techniques and models from which to develop their own style.

So let's agree on a battle-plan: l A re-think of the 60-minute key stage 2 writing test (portfolios of creative writing?).

* A statement from the strategy that the excerpts used in literacy hours should be backed up by reading the whole book.

lWell-funded conferences and seminars bringing together teachers, fiction writers, poets and dramatists to develop exciting models for writing.

* A literacy roadshow bringing writers and selected celebrities into schools to promote reading and writing.

* A specific allocation within school budgets for author visits to enrich English teaching.

* A strategy writing magazine featuring successful lessons accompanied by the resulting children's work. The magazine could run writing competitions with prizes of books for the pupils and author visits for the schools.

Our children deserve this minimum programme to progress.

Alan Gibbons 13 Chatsworth Avenue Orrell Park Liverpool

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