Because, Ofqual now claims, creative writing A level is
- too thin on ‘content’ (as defined by them)
- too skills-based
- too similar to English literature A level (so, maths and further maths aren’t similar?)
Why did Ofqual not raise these objections two years ago? In any case, they are easily outweighed by a consideration of the evidence in favour of an A level in creative writing:
1. 83 HE institutions offer 500 courses in creative writing at undergraduate and masters level, involving about 7,000 students a year. Creative writing A level is the only relevant qualification to prepare students for such university study.
2. Of all the ‘skills-based’ ‘content-lite’ arts – i.e. fine art, music, drama, dance, film (cultural practices renowned for ‘turbo-driving the economy’ - Nicky Morgan's words for the purpose of education)– the language arts alone will now have no A level qualification.
3. Over 2,000 students have already qualified in creative writing A level. Their teachers have been trained and schools reorganised because of the increasing popularity of this course, with now over 100 students in some centres. All of these people will now feel demoralised and devalued. Investment in resources will now be wasted. At least £250,000 was spent developing the AQA specification, more will have been spent by schools, colleges and individuals.
4. Creative writing disciplines are now used in psychology, medical and legal training in order to enhance insights and performance in those sectors. (I have heard that there is even a creative writing group in the House of Commons itself. Maybe someone could tell the minister?) Evidence from James Pennebaker’s psychology research shows that regular reflective writing can improve physical and mental health, as well as increase academic scores. The dotcom foundation uses writing journals to build young people’s resilience to grooming as part of the government’s own ‘prevent’ strategy.
When NAWE (the National Association for Writers in Education), learnt what they described in measured terms as this 'disappointing news', it wrote a press statement and launched a petition to Nicky Morgan, the secretary of state, to keep creative writing A level.
Please sign the petition if you haven't already done so. Here are the links:
NAWE Press release file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/Press%20Release%20-%20NAWE%20sept%202015%20(1).pdf
However, it seems that despite nearly 4,000 signatures (so far) to NAWE's petition, we may have to stand and watch as yet more educational investment is cut, more culture is bull-dozed and more young people’s voices are silenced. For the sake of what? Some mask of rigorous reform? Anyone would think we did not live in austere and socially challenging times! Ofqual’s ban seems to be the kind of cultural vandalism more characteristic of a fundamentalist regime than a country which prides itself on its ‘democratic values’.
Here are the comments of just 4 of those nearly 4,000 signatories:
The massive uptake and success of Creative Writing in its multiple manifestations in Higher Education demonstrates the extent to which students value the subject, and the desire to dismantle the A level illustrates the extent to which this administration and its narrow 'values' is out of touch with what is actually happening in the world of English education. So much for the Education Secretary's hollow words about wishing to develop a better qualified and more creative society. Andrew Green
Nicky Morgan. If you were an intelligent secretary of state for education you would have talked to those who teach & study this subject, not just be the pet poodle of your predecessor Michael Gove & follow his personal prejudices. But you didn't. Shame on you. Resign now. Ian Taylor
...because it's self-evident that the arts are crucial to the moral and emotional health of the nation; because it should be a matter of public outrage that politicians of any persuasion should interfere in the business of teaching and learning beyond creating the infrastructure that makes it possible. John Foggin
Would we scrap Art and Design, Music, Drama or Dance A levels? That a country renowned for its literature refuses to support new generations of writers is a scandal. As a lecturer in Creative Writing I can attest to the commitment of my students, and the great moral, intellectual and personal benefits of the subject as the petition outlines. Naomi Foyle
(Click here if you want to read more of the comments - or visit the petition site.)
Hear also what Barbara Bleiman says.
In a letter to the TES (18.9.2015), Barbara Bleiman, co-director of the English and Media Centre, questions the logic and justice of Ofqual’s recent pronouncement. She explains that, despite common misconceptions, the real demands of creative writing A level are far from unchallenging. Students have to develop a historical, genre-wide, and technical understanding of writing, and they practise distinctive individual and collaborative disciplines.
Barbara concludes, ‘All the key organisations representing English in schools and HE are united in condemning the government’s decision, yet these days the view of a single minister seemingly holds more sway than that of subject experts and practitioners.’
A teacher of writing might get a bit down-hearted by all of this, were it not for a second lesson in irony: with each such high-handed decision of government, teachers, artists and young people will become even more determined.
7 more NWP teachers’ writing groups will start this year.
‘Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.’
NWP outreach director