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Thank you for the music: a teacher's eulogy for creative writing A-level

A-level creative writing was a challenging and rigorous subject and the decision to scrap it will leave students all the poorer, writes head of English Yvonne Williams

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Last Friday, at the beginning of break, I was negotiating co-curricular space and even a place within timetabled enrichment for my AS-level creative writing. By the end of break, the subject's death knell had sounded.

Its lifespan may have been brief at A-level but the different perspectives it brought to teaching and learning have been invaluable. Of course, English teachers have always taught writing skills and have deployed a number of imaginative strategies in order to bring out the best in their students. But the creative writing A-level concentrates minds on new ways of analysing texts, flexing genres and developing individual voice and sophisticated style. 

Creative writing provides an excellent counter-balance to academic study, which is based almost exclusively on analytical and inferential approaches to defined content. This is not to say that creative writing lacks rigour – it has a developing body of knowledge and practice. It's up to the teacher and the student which frameworks to draw on – now that’s what I call independence!

The vocational argument that creative writing made students better writers has not been overstated. We put non-fiction writing under the microscope, analyse the effects of language and syntax, then experiment and adapt material into forms other than the academic essay. It is more, much more, than functional skills because of the level of originality and refinement required. I have no doubt that the scientists I have taught will have benefited as much as the literature and humanities students. I look forward to hearing about the articles and talks they will compose to publicise their latest discoveries and research.

A few years ago, I had the incredible privilege of meeting author PD James and listening to her share her forensic approach and careful plotting with my GCSE students. Writers and writing have so much more to give to education, and they enrich political debate too.

I don’t regard it as an admission of weakness when I say it is the hardest A-level I have ever taught. My research into creativity methodology was extremely stretching. I observed art and DT lessons, embarked on joint projects and interviewed A-level students. What I saw was that success required ingenuity and originality. But it was the realisation of the necessity of independent thought, trial and error, perseverance and problem-solving that finally sold the whole discipline and qualification to me. Creative writing is an excellent developer of soft skills – the ones that British industry says it needs.

Last weekend, at the writing group I attend, I spoke to an engineer whose day job requires creativity, problem-solving and trialling different solutions. I realised that we need more than Stem subjects for economic prosperity; we as individuals need more from education than just the wherewithal to make a living. My school strongly advocates the importance of the whole student: to me, that means using structures like creative writing A-level to enhance creativity and develop the skills to do more than just express views and emotions. It means using writing to come to terms with personal issues and ask the “what if?” questions that resolve scientific and business dilemmas.

For a brief moment we have enjoyed a qualification that works on so many levels and provides the kind of holistic, personal education that benefits aspiring writers, scientists and engineers alike. Thank you for the music…

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