Relief was to be short-lived, however. A little over a week ago, it was announced that Creative Writing will be axed. The last cohort will sit the exam in summer 2018.
The DfE’s announcement is light on detail. We are given only this: “During development of subject content, it became clear that for AS and A Levels in creative writing and health and social care, it has not been possible to draft subject content in accordance with the department’s guidance and Ofqual’s principles for reformed AS and A Levels. As a result, these subjects will not be developed further.”
A paragraph from the notice sent out by AQA, the exam-board responsible for Creative Writing, is a little more revealing:
The DfE’s guidance and Ofqual’s principles required reformed A-levels to avoid overlap with other subjects, have clearly defined and rigorous content, and be right for progression to Higher Education. It was concluded to be problematic that there are connections between Creative Writing and English, and that Creative Writing is (or could be construed to be) more skills based than knowledge based. Ultimately, this prevented AQA from reforming this qualification.
These are substantially the same concerns that were raised – and clearly and robustly addressed – in March. Nevertheless, here we go again:
1) The DfE’s understandings of subject distinction in English in seriously out of step with experts’. It’s a terrible thing to quote oneself, but there is nothing to say here that hasn’t already been said. This, then, from my LKMco post: “The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) exists to monitor and advise on HE standards and their latest benchmark statement for English recognises Creative Writing as one of three distinct strands of study (the other two being English Literature and English Language). The QAA’s view is therefore that the purpose, aims, and outcomes of creative writing are distinct from those of English Literature and Language. In fact, the QAA plans to publish a benchmark statement dedicated solely to Creative Writing.”
2) There is a clear and established line of continuity from A Level to undergraduate study. Again, the popularity of Creative Writing in HE has been noted before: see here (Robert Eaglestone and Doug Cowie, both at Royal Holloway, on Creative Writing), here (the EMC’s response to the decision to cut Creative Writing), and here (HESA statistics).
3) It is hard to make any sense of the concern over knowledge versus skills, for three reasons: (i) In their own guidelines, the DfE and Ofqual never make distinctions of importance between knowledge and skills; rather, “knowledge, skills, and understanding” are always cited together, presumably because it is taken for granted that these are the combined, inseparable ends of learning a subject. (ii) Without an appropriate skill in place, how is knowledge to be expressed or demonstrated at all? (iii) The concerns cited by AQA are largely those that were addressed in March/April. The DfE was satisfied with the defence. What has changed? The opposition of knowledge and skills continues to infect educational discourse in ways that are at best unenlightening, at worst downright corruptive. This was the subject of my BERA presentation this week. The paper on which that talk was based can be read here and (slightly revised) here (you can – and should – also read versions of the other contributors’ stimulating and challenging papers); it was written with philosophers of education in mind, but a version for interested non-specialists will follow. David Aldridge and I also plan to work together on related issues.
Dr. Maggie Butt, on behalf of NAWE, has started a petition, which I urge readers to sign. That such a young course with such strong support, especially from HE, looks set to be cut is a sad thing to be sure, and is indicative of our policy-makers’ collective intellectual and cultural vacuity. Barbara Bleiman of the English and Media Centre has expressed her disappointment that the DfE is unable to understand the richness and distinction of Creative Writing. I hope she is right, because if not it is hard to shake the feeling that the DfE is not so much unable as it is unwilling.