Making writing invisible: A Study into the Complexities of Standard Written English Acquisition in Higher Education

Abstract
Higher education in the UK has changed from a system catering for an elite, to one which aims to improve the potential of over 40% of young people (Clark, 2003). Whilst not rejecting the idea of education for its own sake, this thesis suggests that one of the purposes of this mass higher education is to fit students for employment. It maintains that for students studying English and Media, this purpose includes the ability to produce Standard Written English. It examines the complexities involved in producing English and Media graduates who have this competence and explores the power relationships involved in teaching and assessing writing. The theories of Bourdieu are used to give a perspective on the use of Standard Written English as an important aspect of cultural capital which distinguishes members of the educated discourse community.

Using written work and interview data from fifteen English and Media undergraduates at one university, plus written tutor feedback and comments, it considers the reasons why students might not meet the criteria set. It challenges the notion that because spelling, punctuation and grammar are ‘surface features’, achieving competence in using them is easy or relatively unimportant. In firmly rejecting the ‘student deficit’ approach, this thesis maintains that there is a need to openly acknowledge different literacies, their social consequences and the complexities involved in changing writing habits. This acknowledgement then necessitates a curriculum which includes genuine opportunities and encouragement to acquire a valuable asset. It is suggested that in doing so, the UK higher education system can move a step further away from its elitist, gatekeeping function and closer to delivering meaningful qualifications and relevant expertise to those students whose employment prospects are linked to written communication.

Researcher: Pat Hill

Contact: p.a.hill@hud.ac.uk

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