As chair of university English, I write to express our profound regret that the Department for Education has decided to discontinue the creative writing A level after the 2018 summer examinations.
One of the most notable features of UK English provision in recent years has been the rise in the popularity of creative writing degrees. There are more than 140 higher education providers, more than 500 degree programmes and more than 4,000 students studying the subject at degree level. Cessation of the A level will mean fewer students will apply for these degrees, and we will have no mechanism for assessing students’ aptitude for them.
This decision has been motivated by anxieties about the possibilities of overlap between creative writing and English, and the ratio of “skills” to “knowledge” in the proposed specification. The recently revised benchmark statement for English degrees at higher education level draws clear distinctions between creative writing, language and literature. We believe that managing potential overlap via syllabi so as to ensure that A levels are sufficiently distinct is as achievable for English and creative writing as it is for history and ancient history. We agree with the DfE that a balance must be struck between theory and practice. For creative writing, that balance is between practice and an emphasis on reading and analysis for the purposes of writing – but balances are by nature adjustable.
Creative writing is an increasingly important player in a suite of humanities disciplines that train our young people in the arts of communication and persuasion. That the subject is so robust at higher education level makes it clear that a qualification of similar quality is possible at A level. We invite the DfE to work with us to allay its legitimate anxieties about content overlap and skills-to-knowledge ratio, so that this A level can be preserved and strengthened.
Chair, university English and professor, English literature