Children's author tells English teachers to nurture creativity by 'cheating'

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The award-winning children's author Philip Pullman is urging teachers to "cheat" by ignoring instructions laid down for them during lessons, in an effort to encourage creative writing in schools.

Mr Pullman called for every child to be allowed "to read like a butterfly and write like a bee" and criticised the National Literacy strategy for containing "half-baked drivel". Writing in today's Times Educational Supplement, he said the scheme had been created by people with no sense of the joy of writing.

The author, whose book The Amber Spyglass, the last in his fantasy trilogy, became the first children's title to win the Whitbread book prize last month, said he was horrified by the writing tasks set for 11-year-olds in national tests.

He said a teacher had asked his advice on how to help pupils in a test that required them to plan a story for 15 minutes and write for 45. "After flinching in horror, I advised her to tell the pupils to write the story first and make the plan afterwards, so that the plan and the story would match and they'd get a better mark," he wrote.

"In a system that has nothing to do with real education, nothing to do with a true, wise, open, rich response to literature, but everything to do with meeting targets and measuring performance levels, then the only way for honest people to survive is to cheat, and do so with a clear conscience."

Mr Pullman is also scathing about the English used by government officials who drew up the literacy programme for primary schools. "They do not understand how writing works. They do not know what reading is for, and the language they use is a scandal. I remember a time when documents on the subject of English teaching were written by people of genuine accomplishment and solid, well-founded knowledge of the field. But now we have this sort of half-baked drivel slapped down in front of us," he wrote.

Mystery, chance and silence were the qualities teachers need to bring back, he said. "By silence I mean the freedom to read like a butterfly, write like a bee; to wander at will from one interesting thing to another, making no noise, drawn only by delight, and then to settle into the solitude of your own space and begin the long process of turning all you've gathered into honey.

"A national curriculum that recognised the value of those basics would be one worth having," he said.