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Winning words

With more than 7,000 pieces of autobiographical writing to get through, this year's Write Away judges had their work cut out. But, as TES arts editor Heather Neill explains, they managed to choose 20 finalists. We publish the six winning essays here.

At last something to celebrate! We have all become weary of bad news about education lately and it is true that there may have been few causes for celebration in some under-staffed schools in various parts of the UK. It is as well, then, to remind ourselves that there are still thousands of teachers out there doing an excellent job, and many pupils enjoying stimulating lessons. The TES's creative writing competition, Write Away (now in its fourth year), is proof of both. Once again, 7,000 key stage 2 and 3 pupils had their pieces of autobiographical writing submitted for the competition earlier this year by teachers who had been using Write Away materials.

The annual competition, organised by The TES and the National Association for the Teaching of English and generously funded by McDonald's Restaurants Ltd, reaches its climax today with the publication of the six outstanding winners - three primary and three secondary. These were chosen from 20 finalists by the popular writers Michael Rosen, best known for his hilarious poems, and Joan Lingard, whose many novels include the Kevin and Sadie series set in Belfast. All the finalists, each with a parent and teacher, enjoyed an afternoon at Shakespeare's Globe in London yesterday, where they each received a cheque for pound;100 and watched a performance of King Lear. The final stage represents the top of an enormous pyramid of judging that has taken place all over the UK superised by the NATE.

Last year we asked for more pieces from state schools and the proportion of state to private entries has increased this time. The standard has improved too in the primary category, although the numbers overall are slightly down. Perhaps more teachers are doing some preliminary judging themselves, or perhaps they have simply not had time to send their pupils' work in to us.

The judges are still wary of the emphasis placed on reading and comprehension at the expense of creative writing in the literacy hour, or at least that this is how the requirements tend to be interpreted. Write Away was always intended to inject some imaginative ideas into the curriculum while helping teachers to answer its requirements. Its success can be gauged by the fact that two of the teachers of winning pupils, Adam Hawkins and Peter Nixon, have used all four Write Away booklets and look forward to their publication each year.

Newly commissioned pieces by some of the most popular writers for children have appeared either in the free TES booklets or in Primary magazine since 1997. This year's authors were Brian Patten, Karen Wallace and Jacqueline Wilson in Primary magazine and David Almond, Jamila Gavin, Joan Lingard and Jan Mark in the booklet.

Two pieces by last year's young winners were also published alongside the professional ones. These are sometimes favoured by teachers wanting to encourage their own pupils to reach a similar standard. The following pages provide some excellent examples for this purpose. And each of the 20 winning schools will receive pound;400 towards a writer's residency, providing even more opportunities for writing creatively.

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