Academics have expressed outrage at the government’s decision to axe A levels in creative writing.
In 2013, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance examination board introduced an A level in the subject with much help from academics and creative writers.
Now, as part of the government’s plans to review all A levels, the Department for Education has announced that “it has not been possible to draft subject content in accordance with the department’s guidance and [the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation’s] principles for reformed AS and A levels”.
In an explanatory letter to the AQA, the DfE stated that it had concluded 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”.
Many working in the field of English, at both school and university level, have been infuriated by this development.
Playwright and novelist Steve May, dean of the School of Humanities and Cultural Industries at Bath Spa University (where until recently he ran the country’s largest department in creative writing), noted that “the demand for creative writing courses in universities has grown exponentially over the past 10 years”.
If the A level had continued, he argued, “students would have been at a much higher level and ready for something more advanced”. At a time when the trend was “to use practicality to enhance employability” – and the requirement for creative writing students to think about markets and audiences often made them highly employable – he deplored the “outmoded idea of splitting off knowledge from skills”, which he saw as “going back to an [antiquated] Oxbridge ideal”.
For Jennifer Richards, professor of early modern literature and culture at Newcastle University (and chair of the English Association’s HE committee), “the key question is whether we understand the value of creativity and communications and whether they can only be taught at a certain age. Can’t we teach creativity and communications at schools as well as university? These seem to me to be vital skills whether you go on to further studies in the field or not.”
And Robert Eaglestone, professor of contemporary literature and thought at Royal Holloway, University of London, suggested that “the loss of this A level severely reduces the cultural and formal range of writing that students come to know and ends the opportunity for their own informed and rigorous creative responses”.
“Its loss will impede their understanding of and active engagement with our outstanding national creative industries and arts. And it throws aside the enthusiasm, commitment and choices of many students, teachers and academics,” he said.