“Do we really need an English Literature exam at all?”
I then moved to another boarding school where two successive,
My View
I disagree whole-heartedly with Gove’s
changes to the National Curriculum.
Rather than making it inclusive he is s...
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English Literature Article


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English Literature Article

  1. 1. “Do we really need an English Literature exam at all?” I then moved to another boarding school where two successive, enlightened heads of department had decided that we were only going to offer English GCSE and not English literature, still with the guiding principle that the best way to teach our beautiful language was through literature. We taught what suited our classes, so I could pick Measure for Measure as an interesting comparison to Romeo and Juliet, the GCSE English text, rather than being confined by the play set by the board. For nearly a decade, I taught literature without ever having to prepare the pupils for an exam. The result? I hope young people who had experienced a little of the breadth of English literature and a glimpse of writing from other cultures. I know that a few were inspired and I also witnessed a series of outstanding A level students on the back of their experience. I understand how privileged I was to be in schools which had good resources. This is less the case in maintained schools, although technology makes variety now more accessible. I am not advocating a return to 100 per cent coursework but I do want to resist loudly Gove’s canon. In many senses, I join the real specialists, the writers and poets who have voiced their dismay at the removal of literature from GCSE English, fearing that many will never sit in awe at the feet of our greatest writers. I want to join them in heralding the inspirational, transformational power of the arts. Yet in doing so I also want to make the radical suggestion that this change could provide opportunity. Perhaps we should not bother to offer the new exam. Go and teach literature and let it do its work in its own terms.” Blog started by: TES_opinion 8-11-2013 • 16:13 Martin Reader, headmaster, Wellington School, Somerset, writes: “Following Mr Gove’s penchant for historical inspiration for exam change, my instant response was to glimpse rosily back to my first forays into English teaching in 1991. I was a freshish- faced ‘unqualified’ teacher, coming straight from Oxford with two English degrees. A former grammar school boy, I was starting work in an independent boarding school. But oh the joy of those early days in the classroom and what wonderful freedoms: GCSE dual award English and English literature was 100 per cent coursework! In my first two years, I taught Beowulf, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Return of the Native, 1984, Njal’s Saga, Silas Marner, Caucasian Chalk Circle. Yes, we were allowed to teach literature in translation. We studied poems by Blake, Marvell, Donne, Herbert, Browning, Armitage, Rosen, Duffy, Fanthorpe amongst others. There was also the radical suggestion that a pupil had to write a critical essay on a novel or a play of their choice! The variety of texts they chose was remarkable, allowing for genuine differentiated learning. I thought it quite a good diet; though I will not pretend that all my pupils enjoyed every moment. Then again, if a text was not working, I did not have to ‘do it’ to death covering every possible question for an exam. I could complete a task and try something else. And I had the time to teach them how to write.
  2. 2. My View I disagree whole-heartedly with Gove’s changes to the National Curriculum. Rather than making it inclusive he is setting out to exclude some of the more vulnerable children in society. Again we will return to the days where one gender out-performs another because they are ‘good at taking exams.’ We are not teaching our children to enjoy books. We are teaching them how to pass exams. They will start their lives knowing what they need to do to sit an exam, but will they really have engaged fully with the text? Will they ever know the enjoyment of reading a novel for pleasure? In days gone by pupils could choose their own novels to work on. Now Gove is tightening the vice on an already struggling English curriculum. His latest directive is to take classics like ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ of the curriculum in favour of English 19th Century classics. I don’t know about anyone else, but as a teenager, I was turned off by the classics and favoured more varied novels (and I love reading!) What is does show is how out of touch Gove is with society. Racism is still prevalent in our society just as inequality for disabled people – themes that these two redundant classics cover. I know I would prefer to teach my pupils novels which have relevance to the world they live in. You will find children will be more willing to read if they can link it to their own lives.