The competition was organised by the Scottish Review in association with the Young Programme charity. It was open to pupils in Scottish schools who were between the ages of 15 and 18 on 14 December 2018.
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.
There was a large entry representative of schools in most parts of Scotland. As last year, the majority of work submitted was by girls – they accounted for 71% of entries.
A short-list of 11 papers were sent out to a panel of 31 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 (many added notes on the other short-listed papers).
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. 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 Hutchesons' Grammar School
and The Royal High School, Edinburgh
– the only schools with more than one pupil on today's roll of honour – and also to St Maurice's High School, Cumbernauld
, for following last year's winning paper with a runner-up paper this year!
The panel of adjudicators
, emeritus professor of adult and continuing education, University of Glasgow; Bob Cant
, writer and activist; Carol Craig
, writer and founder, Centre for Confidence and Well-being; Ron Ferguson
, journalist and biographer; Alan Fisher
, senior Al Jazeera correspondent; Howie Firth
, director, Orkney International Science Festival; Jock Gallagher
, broadcaster and co-founder, Centre for Freedom of the Media; Rose Galt
, former president, Educational Institute of Scotland; Gerry Hassan
, commentator; Andrew Hook
, emeritus professor of English literature, University of Glasgow; Ian Jack
, Guardian columnist and former editor, Independent on Sunday; Amy Jardine
, Scotland Young Thinker of the Year 2014; Alexis Jay
, chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse; Magnus Linklater
, Times columnist and former editor, The Scotsman; John Lloyd
, contributing editor, Financial Times; David McAlpine Cunningham
, academic administrator and writer; Fiona MacDonald
, managing director, Young Programme; Rebecca MacDonald
, Scotland Young Thinker of the Year 2017; Alan McIntyre
, patron, Institute of Contemporary Scotland; Islay McLeod
, editor, Scottish Review; Barbara Millar
, Young Programme adjudicator; Donald S Murray
, poet and author; Bill Paterson
, actor; Eileen Reid
, writer; George Robertson
(Lord Robertson of Port Ellen), politician and former secretary-general, NATO; James Robertson
, writer; Allan Shiach
, film producer; Angus Skinner
, former chief social work adviser for Scotland; Morelle Smith
, poet and author; Gillean Somerville-Arjat
, critic and writer; Linda Young
, former teacher and sister of SR founder Kenneth Roy.
There was much praise for the short-listed articles. Bill Paterson
wrote: 'All the entries in the short-list, without exception, gave a deep insight into the issues of identity and belonging, and to the pressures felt by young people today. For those of us many decades away from our mid-teens, they lit up the complex world that young people are negotiating these days. Yet, despite touching on quite troubling issues such as racism and mental health, they nearly all had optimism and hope. We can all at least feel optimistic about the quality of writing that today's young people can produce.'
said: 'I was struck by the ambition of nearly all of the short-listed entries. These young writers don't seem afraid to tackle big social issues, nor to place their own personal experiences within a wider social context. They are not afraid to laugh either, at the world or at themselves. Every one of the papers contained arresting images and challenging, thought-provoking assertions.'
, said: 'Without exception, all of these essays were superb. They are well-written, with good structures and arguments, and good use of words – never trying to be clever for the sake of it. A sense of humanity and humility, along with self-knowledge and awareness, ran through all of them. They were all impressive.' Gillean Somerville-Arjat
stated: 'This was no task for the faint of heart. There were five essays emerging from personal experience and six that were more discursive. All were extremly well-written and interesting. "A" passes in scholastic terms.'
'Wow!' said Howie Firth
, 'The standard is so good – every one of the 11 short-list is a very able writer.' 'I was very impressed with the short-list of entries. What a fine selection of young writers,' commented Bob Cant
. 'They held the attention in a variety of ways. Rating them was a difficult, but enjoyable, task,' said Ron Ferguson
. Rose Galt
thought that: 'The overall standard was outstanding and it was a pleasure to read all of them.' 'The writing is very good and I am envious of the literary skills,' wrote George Robertson
. 'A very high standard of papers, and difficult to choose a top three!' said Linda Young
. 'It was uplifting to read such intelligent and often moving essays by these young people,' wrote Morelle Smith
. 'All have merit. All should have prizes,' thought Donald S Murray
. 'The future is safe,' concluded Allan Shiach
The Short List
The winner: Harriet Sweatman
The Royal High School, Edinburgh
Title: 'These are not our best years'
Theme: Reflections on school life
: 'A very powerful piece of writing on an important but neglected topic. It is a fresh and original critique of conventional secondary schooling written from a young person's perspective. The author is measured and rarely overdramatises or indulges in hyperbole. A memorable argument.'
: 'My clear winner. Great use of language to paint the picture of modern high school life. Lots of stylish turns of phrase that brought the piece to life, while avoiding, or even better inverting, clichés.'
: 'A well-argued paper with great feeling. The language is gutsy and challenging throughout.'
: 'This is a captivating reflection on education and contains a powerful description of their experience: I feel like I have gone backwards
: 'An outstanding piece of polemic. The writing is of a very high standard with an admirable preference for the memorable phrase over cliché. I would recommend this entry should be sent to all MSPs.'
: 'A demonstration of the power of personal testimony, which lifted the writing above an exercise and made it more expressive and urgent.'
: 'A paper evoking the tick-box drudgery of exam-driven education so vividly that I began to feel bowed down by the weight of it myself. Peppered with great phrases and imagery: workshops where they cut things open and show you how they work, what oozes and what snaps
... I have been flattened by a concrete curriculum
. Stylish, confident writing.'
: 'This writer takes some risks with the paper's structure and use of language, and carries it off. There are several layers of irony, and the humour is sometimes self-deprecating but also barbed in its analysis of how school prepares young people to become part of the machine. I admire the thoughtful, unapologetic analysis of the relationship between formal education and personal ambition and freedom. There are many striking observations and this is why, for me, this paper stood out from the others.'
: 'A robust and rather bleak indictment of the secondary school system which is failing the majority of pupils because of the way everything is geared towards grades and not towards real learning, where qualifications are more important than personal qualities. Solid writing, with some sharp and memorable phrases.'
: 'The writer had me by the scruff of the neck and wouldn't let go. A piece full of sparkle.'
: 'This paper emerged most strongly for me for the sheer vividness of the writing and its clarity of perception about contemporary high school life.'
: 'Insightful and observant. Right from its stunning opening sentence – The hoard of hunchbacks slouch on, dragging their feet up the school drive
– it makes its main point with style and persuasive prose.'
Donald S Murray
: 'Really stylish and well-written.'
: 'An excellent flowing read on a subject we rarely hear about from the coal face. Great energy.'
: 'A passionate piece of writing – yet any anger is justified.'
: 'There is a clear voice in this piece of writing. It reads almost like a character narrating a fictional story. The writer sets the scene immediately, with a bleak description, and goes on to give plenty of pertinent examples. The images and metaphors used are so original and striking, and ensure the reader's continued attention. Most of all, I admire the disaffected point of view, like a dissident slipping into a meeting of the Comintern.'
: 'A very powerful and well-written piece, which engaged the reader thoughout. It should be compulsory reading for all decision-makers in education!'
: 'The writer did an incredible job of bringing the atmosphere of school to the page, and the writing deftly switched between dry humour – blood or food? We may never know
– to conveying an intense sense of pain – the chokehold of the curriculum
: 'This piece had a maturity, depth and clarity that is very impressive.'
: 'A highly entertaining and memorable piece of good writing which held my attention and made me both grimace and smile. Lots of original phrases were used, with a good pinch of humour.'
Clydebank High School
Title: 'A theory to happiness'
Theme: Mental health and depression
'This entry was original, strongly expressed, and moving – a cry from the heart, expressing what many troubled teenagers must go through. I liked the powerful imagery used.'
: 'Poetic and lyrical, this paper grasped a tricky and under-described condition. It's not clear if the writer is the subject, but either way, it gets into the entrails of a mental condition all too common. Truly perceptive and illuminating.'
: 'Very powerful. Very brave. It had a compelling and impressive flow.'
: 'Written in a racy, colourful language which increasingly seems appropriate to the subject, and with vivid imagery, it evokes the experience of depression with considerable power.'
: 'A beautifully written, intriguing account of coping with depression.'
: 'An unflinching look at childhood depression. It was handled with a lot of self-awareness and appropriate detachment in the writing, even though it was a personal testimony.'
: 'There was a persistence and energy to the writing.'
: 'Various people when writing about depression, get across ably the terrible experience of it, which is an achievement. This writer does that and then goes beyond it, showing how they thought their way to a solution. In both the description of what they came through, and the nature of the solution, they distil a great deal into clean-cut and elegant sentences.'
David McAlpine Cunningham
'The writing is on fire – but with good tone control.'
: 'It's a sign of great writing when, as the reader, you want to read more. This was an excellent piece.'
St Maurice's High School, Cumbernauld
Title: 'A six-letter word'
Theme: Understanding autism
: 'Written with insight and generosity in clear, uncluttered prose, this cleverly-structured essay paints a vivid portrait of a much-loved sister whose "difference" is a source of joy, as well as of the urge to protect. It combines apt turns of phrase with some startling observations.'
: 'This writer used the experience of growing up with an autistic sibling to attempt to understand her behaviour – to get inside her skin. A brave attempt, and an important subject, which was well-handled.'
: 'A sensitive and illuminating insight into the world of autism. Remarkable empathy and self-reflection.'
: 'This piece of writing argues its case fluently and without overstatement or rancour. In a word, it was elegant.'
: 'Eloquent, personal and strikingly moving. A truly memorable piece of writing.'
: 'This entry was very skilfully written. It started with a relationship on words, then led you quickly into the main theme: the relationship between two sisters, the younger of whom is autistic, the older being the narrator. It conveyed vividly the mixture of irritation, jealousy and love experienced.'
David McAlpine Cunningham
: 'The perfect balance of mature reflection and strong, eloquent writing, that didn't draw undue attention to itself. Full of tenderness.'
: 'We find ourselves caring not just for Stephanie, who suffers from autism, but for the empathetic writer herself. Her understated prose is just right for the task, and her ending is perfect.'
: A fantastic example of how plain, simple writing can be powerful and effective. The piece carried genuine emotion.'
: 'Beautifully written in a spare, almost subdued style. The succession of simple, often one-clause sentences, brilliantly communicates emotional depth and honesty. Reading it is a moving experience.'
In alphabetical order
Hutchesons' Grammar School
Powerful exposé of how gender
stereotypes still dominate today's supposedly enlightened Western societies
Stewart's Melville College
Personal account of racism and its presence in social media
Entertaining essay of a normally mundane event: a schools sports day
Hutchesons' Grammar School
Philosophical paper advocating the importance of taking risks
St Margaret's Academy, Livingston
Spirited defence of books in their physical form
High School of Dundee
Enlightening essay on the importance and value of introverts
Gracemount High School
Forensic analysis of relationship 'goals' portayed in TV series 'Outlander'
Unique take on the role of disresrespect in advancing human progress
In alphabetical order
Hutchesons' Grammar School
Well-argued essay recommending the conservation of competition in our lives
The Royal High School, Edinburgh
Personal testimony on the loss of religious faith
Mallaig High School
Passionate plea on the plight of orangutans in the face of the palm oil industry
Renfrew High School
Indictment of how the education system is failing young people
St Aloysius' College
paper on why we should listen to rap music
Stylish reflection on why we should stop apologising
Woodmill High School
Examination of the protein supplement industry
Viewforth High School
Well-informed argument on gambling addiction
for the winner: Harriet Sweatman
for joint runner-up: Eve Mcdougall-Page
for joint runner-up: Samantha Moore