The Write Away competition triumphantly reaches its eighth year in 2005, with another 10,000 thought-provoking entries from students aged seven to 14. For teachers all over the UK and in English-speaking schools elsewhere, packing up batches of students' work in January each year has become part of an enjoyable annual event. Strange to think that some of the earliest winners may now be young graduates or perhaps beginning to realise the career dreams they told us about in the 1990s.
Much has changed since 1997: the presentation of chosen pieces in the pages of The TES has varied over the years and the inspired teaching resources from professional writers, published each autumn, have appeared in several formats. But this is a particularly satisfying season: newly commissioned pieces by the then Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo, the Carnegie Medal winner Jennifer Donnelly and last year's winner of the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year award, David Almond, sat side by side with two of the winning entries from Write Away 2004 in Teacher magazine last September.
They inspired a bumper crop of entries, six of which appear in the following pages. And this year, for the first time, all the teachers of the finalists receive a Hewlett-Packard digital camera and the schools of the two winners in each section, primary and secondary, a Smart board, kindly donated by the manufacturer through its distributor, Steljes.
But some things remain delightfully the same. We have always held the presentation ceremony at Shakespeare's Globe in London, and yesterday the 20 talented 2005 finalists were there for a performance of The Winter's Tale. They also met the two celebrity judges, the new Children's Laureate, Jacqueline Wilson, a senior judge for the past three years, and poet Michael Rosen, who has officiated at seven out of eight Write Away prizegivings. Each of the 20, accompanied by a teacher and a parent, received signed copies of books by Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen and kindly provided by their publishers, Walker Books and Doubleday. As ever, members of the National Association for the Teaching of English (Nate) undertook the difficult first round of judging in regional groups. About 80 scripts were then looked at again by a smaller panel of Nate members and TES representatives and, from their list of 20, the celebrity judges chose six for publication in Friday magazine.
Despite the pleasure at finding so much imagination, sensitivity and humour among the young writers, it has to be said that the judges occasionally groaned at punctuation and spelling errors. It is a rare treat to come across a semicolon, while the curse of the spell check - through for threw, viscous for vicious, souls for soles, etc - sometimes causes a stumbling block in an otherwise excellent piece. But we would not want to detract from the success of those whose work is being celebrated today. Well done to all the finalists and to their teachers whose contribution, as ever, The TES enthusiastically acknowledges.
Heather Neill, former arts editor of The TES, is organiser of Write Away