Report-writing better for the 21st century

18th September 2009 at 01:00

Creative writing is back! Wow! Everyone is over the moon. But return from where to what? To being part of the examination, where a candidate is given a stimulus and asked to write creatively within an hour and under examination conditions? How many authors work under such pressure and constraints?

When I was principal examiner, and the essay formed an entire paper of the final examination (worth 35 marks), I asked highly-experienced grade A examiners to scrutinise an essay that I thought was worth full marks; theirs ranged from 17 out of 35 to 30 out of 35. What hope for less experienced markers - what justice for the candidates?

OK, so we won't make it part of the examination, but we could have it submitted as coursework or a folio - just as we did in the 1990s. I have always maintained that if you hang around in education long enough, you become fashionable again. Only in the 1990s, candidates had to submit a review of personal reading, as well as a piece of writing. And despite the recession in those days, a good folio was trading for around pound;20 - one of the reasons it was ditched.

In any case, who said that creative writing wasn't part of the Higher course? Look up the Arrangements Document which requires candidates to compose "a piece of writing which must be expressive or creative or a report", which is assessed internally by their teachers.

At least when writing is assessed internally with the possibility of redrafting (just as any author would do), and with the further possibility of a second attempt, damage is minimised. But to have it externally assessed as part of the examination merely builds in room for greater injustice.

In any case, who writes creatively in the post-Higher English world? Not even English teachers - or if they do and become successful, they leave teaching. The kind of writing that most people have to undertake in their working lives is report writing, with accurate spelling in grammatically- acceptable and correctly-punctuated sentences (though a current C grade in Higher English isn't necessarily a guarantee of that, I suspect).

Fine if our young can write creatively, but isn't it more important that they can master and muster the skills of analysis and synthesis. Let's reintroduce the report in a relevant 21st-century form.

David Cockburn, Fairfield Road, Kelty, Fife.

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