The competition was organised by the Scottish Review and sponsored by the Young Programme charity. It was open to pupils in Scottish schools who were between the ages of 15 and 18 on 12 December 2019.
It was a condition of entry that the work should be that of the author alone, unedited by a teacher (or anyone else), and that it should be a work of non-fiction. Pupils were asked to imagine that they were writing a feature or column for an intelligent magazine or serious newspaper. Examples given in the briefing were: a commentary about something in the news; thoughts about a cultural event; an account of a personal experience of some kind; a piece about a sports event; or a profile of, or an interview with, an individual. The articles were required to be between 900 and 1,100 words in length. No entries outside of these margins were considered.
A short-list of 11 papers was sent out to a panel of 22 judges, with no identification of author, age or school included. Members of the panel were asked to vote for their winner and two runners-up, and also append comments on their selection.
The winner will receive a cheque for £600 and each of the two runners-up a cheque for £300. All three articles are published in this special edition of SR. Eight highly commended and eight commended writers will receive a certificate of recognition and book token. Our congratulations to all 19 long-listed pupils for their outstanding work and to the many other promising young writers who entered the competition. Special congratulations to The Glasgow Academy
, Hutchesons' Grammar School
and Stewart's Melville College
– the schools with more than one pupil on today's roll of honour – and also to Woodmill High School
, for making it to the long-list despite having suffered a fire at the school last year.
The panel of adjudicators
, journalist and broadcaster; Jean Barr
, emeritus professor of adult and continuing education, University of Glasgow; Howie Firth
, director, Orkney International Science Festival; Rose Galt
, former president, Educational Institute of Scotland; Gerry Hassan
, commentator and author; Andrew Hook
, emeritus professor of English literature, University of Glasgow; Amy Jardine
, Scotland Young Thinker of the Year 2014; Magnus Linklater
columnist and former editor, The Scotsman
; Fiona MacDonald
, managing director and chair, Young Programme; Alan
, patron, Institute of Contemporary Scotland; Hamish Mackay
, journalist and former head of news, Press and Journal
; Islay McLeod
, editor, Scottish Review; Sally Magnusson
, broadcaster and writer; Barbara Millar
, Young Programme chief adjudicator; Eileen Reid
, writer; George Robertson
(Lord Robertson of Port Ellen), politician and former secretary-general, NATO; James Robertson
, writer and poet; Rachel Sharp
, graduate in English literature and student teacher; Anthony Seaton
, emeritus professor of environmental and occupational medicine, University of Aberdeen; Maurice Smith
, journalist and documentary producer; Morelle Smith
, poet and author; Gillean Somerville-Arjat
, critic and writer.
There was much praise for the short-listed articles. Keith Aitken
said: 'An astonishingly high standard throughout: I could have made a rational case for almost any of them as the winner. I was particularly struck by the richness of the vocabulary at these writers' command. Well done to all our writers.'
commented: 'It was a privilege to read such a rich array of work by young writers.' Amy Jardine
described the short-list as: 'A joy to read,' while Maurice Smith
stated: 'I was impressed by every writer's efforts. The essays were written with skill and demonstrated strong research abilities. It was great to see that so many young people are confident with language and writing so well.'
'What an amazing quality,' said Howie Firth
, 'Every one of these young people is a very able writer, who is going to succeed in whatever they do. A pleasure to read.'
'Overall, the standard was gratifyingly high and much better than the average of under/post graduate essays I have read over the years,' said Anthony Seaton
, 'Many would have earned an A grade from me! I have spent a happy few hours reading the short-listed essays.'
The winner: Changshi Tang
High School of Dundee
Title: 'Never mind the pandas'
Theme: The importance of learning a new language
: 'A really striking piece. What in primary school felt like a mortifying episode with an embarrassing parent leads to some finely expressed insights into what this incident really represented, the value of language and heritage, and the cost of speaking only English.'
: 'I like the sprightly way in which the subject of language is tackled at the beginning, the amusing anecdote, and the way it leads into the argument. The background is well-explored, and there is some well-researched detail. But it is the passion the writer invests in the subject of language that makes this essay so compelling. A fine piece of writing.'
: 'Beginning with a personal anecdote, this essay blossoms into a convincing and heart-felt defence of all languages, and an attack on the deadening of ideas and mutual understanding that occurs when the speakers of one dominant language cease to know or be interested learning any others. We are used to environmental activism, but in a similar way this essay argues for linguistic biodiversity.'
: 'The evocation of the immigrant experience is gratifyingly specific, but also has a universal quality that speaks to how we all sometimes feel like strangers in our own country.'
: 'This paper is lively, beautifully written, and employs a light touch to great effect. Brilliant payoff.'
: 'Moving between the specific and the general, the personal and universal, is something all writers find challenging, and this paper accomplishes it very smoothly.'
: 'This essay is timely and quite heart-wrenching from the outset. It is a brilliant argument for the educational and cultural benefits of foreign language learning. The last line is perfect.'
: 'A standout winner. I found the range of insights and understanding in this piece simply breathtaking. The writer takes us on a tour which is never forced or trying to over-impress, but conveys their concerns about the survival of languages and effects of globalisation. They come over as the sort of voice I hope 21st-century global humanity will aspire to.'
: 'A lively and well written piece arguing effectively for the teaching of foreign languages to have a central role in schools. The opening paragraphs are compelling and toe-curlingly honest, the research rich and pertinent, the pay-off snappy.'
: 'This piece had an excellent beginning, which hooked me immediately, and then continued on into an insightful exploration of what language is. It was immediately clear that the writer had an original take from the description of English as "aspirational" and "a golden ticket". Such good use of imagery lifted the writing wonderfully. A lot was packed into this short piece of writing.'
: 'A perceptive human story that explains in a few words the isolation that can be caused by a few cruel comments in a primary school class. At the end the "outsider" is the winner, bringing two groups together through the power of language.'
: 'A vital and topical issue of our time. Because this paper starts with the personal, it engages you more readily in her argument. The author knows about the problems of cultural integration and how that can make you feel.'
: 'This paper has an intriguing title to which it returns wittily at the end, a very catchy introduction which immediately puts one on the writer's side, and then a logical case for multi- or bilingualism.'
: 'An insightful and engaging commentary on the value of foreign language learning in the current global climate. Rich in stylish prose and thoughtful reflection, the writer achieves a sophisticated balance between witty personal anecdotes and skilful research to demonstrate a strong understanding of a very topical issue.'
: 'A well-researched essay which uses personal experience and shifts admirably from an initial negative experience to the very positive benefits of knowing and speaking another language.'
The Glasgow Academy
Title: 'The reason I cycle'
Theme: Understanding autism
: 'A down-to-earth treatment of sibling bonding with both a dilemma and an answer. Killer last line as the author reverses the role. Opening and closing lines are so important and this essay exemplifies it.'
: 'A very moving and witty essay which takes the reader into three divergent worlds: cycling, tandems and the challenges and frustrations of being a young carer. The end brought a lump to my throat.'
: 'Beautifully written.'
: 'The intro is most effective at setting the scene. We then move on to the 60-mile cycle itself – and we can feel the wheels slipping and spinning on the loose rocks, the effort that has to be employed to keep going up steep inclines. But although we initially feel how great the author is for taking their brother on these rides, we then realise that it is the other way round. The paper is incredibly uplifting and the writing is sometimes quite lyrical.'
: 'The character of the writer comes through as someone of depth, compassion and ability.'
: 'This is touching, funny, informative and well-structured, with the essay mirroring the 60-mile cycle ride at its heart. Once I started the journey with this writer, I knew I was going to finish it.'
: 'Funny, tender and wise, the is a beautiful piece of writing about a beloved sibling and what it means to give.'
: 'A most impressive essay, both for the cycling feat described, and the commitment of the writer. It gives a good description of the challenges which having an autistic sibling involves, but shows too how this is turned to advantage, enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment.There are striking as well as amusing figures of speech, and the writing clearly shows that this young person has developed an unusual level of compassion and understanding.’'
: 'A very human story – I felt a great sense of "being there" with both as they travelled along the road in western Scotland.'
: 'This essay had a wonderful clarity and thoughtfulness to it, with a superb ending.'
Title: 'Artificial infirmary'
Theme: Healthcare and technology
: 'This is a class act: an issue still quite rarely addressed, but dealt with here with real passion, force and wit. Excellent research effectively deployed, punchy writing and arguments that come over as fresh and thoughtful.'
: 'This piece was written with creativity, conviction and enthusiasm. A most readable and informative piece of prose – right from the very arresting intro, and sprinkled throughout with short sentences which help make the general flow easy to follow.'
: 'Original and thought-provoking. The author deals adeptly and subtly with the march of technology, and convincingly creates the world of the future in the here and now.'
: 'An eloquent and readable glimpse into the future of medicine.'
: 'An intelligently written piece that offered original insights on a contemporary issue.'
: 'Although this essay acknowledges and applauds recent developments in A.I. in medicine, it is a passionate yet reasoned argument for the primacy of the human touch, and human sensibility, in the care of patients. The writing is wonderfully clear and clever, and I felt that I was in safe hands all the way through.'
: 'This paper is written with authority and great style. The payoff is excellent, the writing mature, and the argument forensic. An excellent piece of work.'
: 'Imaginative and well-written. I could easily see the piece published in a serious newspaper or magazine.'
: 'This paper makes a strong point about the importance of empathy in the doctor-patient relationship. If the writer becomes a doctor, he or she will learn that touch or palpation has been a fundamental part of the examination of a patient, going back to Hippocrates.'
: 'The language and expression used was neatly engaging.'
: 'While being clear and focussed, the writing was flexible and playful too. The writer seemed to be having fun with the theme, which gives energy to the whole piece. An exceptionally well-crafted piece of writing.'
: 'An important and interesting topic that we all need to be aware of. A well-argued and well-structured piece of writing.'
In alphabetical order
Hutchesons' Grammar School
Personal account of death in the family
Sprited reportage of the relationship between Hong Kong and China
Illuminating report on shanty towns
The Glasgow Academy
Humane analysis of the introduction of fix rooms for addicts
St Margaret's Academy
Powerful account of the 9/11 memorial
Our Lady and St Patrick's High School
Quirky and entertaining essay on handwriting
Original analysis of when themes kill plot in literature
Arran High School
Personal testimony on the loss of a beloved grandmother
In alphabetical order
Stewart's Melville College
Refelctive essay on overcoming fear
Woodmill High School
Revealing exposé of the use of biased research in medicine
The Glasgow Academy
Entertaining journey through the perils of public speaking
Hutchesons' Grammar School
Amusing comparison of two powerful forces: Big Brother and Owen's mother
Perth Grammar School
Vivid paper on the significance and influence of adverts
King's Park Secondary
Staunch defence of emo music and culture
Stewart's Melville College
Compelling account of a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau
St George's School for Girls
Unique and lyrical exploration of Original Sin
for the winning paper by Changshi Tang
for the joint runner-up paper by Kenneth Fraser
for the joint runner-up paper by Murray Seggie