After Gove: Musings on teaching English Literature 4 More of the same -losing heart.

The point of these blogs was intended to be a chance to clarify and simplify the choices involved in opting for a new GCSE board next year. The idea was that greater breadth and renewed enthusiasm would strike me and that I would swoon in front of the vast array of opportunity available to help me inspire year 10…

Sadly, I see no reason to be cheerful. There is a mammoth overhaul of examinations underway across all levels. The much pilloried Michael Gove has indicated that he is tired of a sytem with so little range and breadth of study, so the syllabi have been devised.

On the WJEC website, you find this: Gareth Pierce, WJEC’s Chief Executive, said: “Our GCSE English Literature provides strength and variety in each of the required genres. The 19th century prose works range from Jane Austen to H.G. Wells, whilst our post-1914 prose and drama selection from the British Isles has a rich choice from mid-20th century to the start of the 21st century. The five Shakespearean plays included within our specification provide a choice between tragedy, comedy and history. so far so good. But the exam board with a name that sounds like a curiously underpublicised body responsible for cleaning drains (Seriously: Eduqas?? What does it mean? How much was some marketing guru poaid to come up with it? Why? Was the marking farce of recent memory so bad tha tthe WJEC felt it had to go into hiding and sneak up on unsuspecting exam officers?).

So what have we got? Component 1: Section A (Shakespeare)
Romeo and Juliet
Much Ado About Nothing
Henry V

Component 1: Section B
WJEC Poetry Anthology (see appendix B for list of poems)

Component 2: Section A (Post 1914 Prose/Drama)
Lord of the Flies (Golding)
*Anita and Me (Syal)
*Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro)
An Inspector Calls (Priestley)
*The History Boys (Bennett)
Blood Brothers (Russell) (not Stanley Thorne edition)

Component 2: Section B (19th Century Prose)
A Christmas Carol (Dickens)
Silas Marner (Eliot)
War of the Worlds (Wells)
Pride and Prejudice (Austen)
Jane Eyre (Brontë)
* Centres are advised that these texts deal with adult themes and / or contain language of an
adult nature. (oo-err)

Woo Hoo for Marner, We Hee for a god set of Shakespeare (though how many centres will opt for Othello, I wonder?) but then, a loud hiss of deflating excitement. It is not that the texts are bad in any way, but it is so dull and unimaginative. Most of the texts are already examined – I applaud WJEC for putting NLMG on the list some time ago -a brave choice which is not reflected here. A wonderful and thought-provoking novel for which I enjoyed preparing a teaching guide and many resources: but the others offer no real variety and no clear choice between boards. Apart from Marner, the 19th century list mirrors either of the two boards I have explored here: and shows so little imagination. It is hard to believe that Carol is there for any reason other than its brevity, when put against other Dickens novels and Jane Eyre is flitting between GCSE and A level with the regularity of rain during a test match. Where does she belong, poor girl? The modern list is equally disappointing – possible to simply dig in and continue to teach Inspector – no harm in that, I believe it to be a brilliant and constantly relevant play, but there is so little about this that is “new”. History Boys is a great play, though I wonder how many year 10 students will buy into the argument between progressive and traditional teaching, let alone the bitter sweet portrayal of homosexuality. Surely better in the VIth form. But the novels are not inspiring either. Flies?? Again. And Anita and me. Now, maybe this is a brilliant piece of literature, but I have never seen the attraction. So, three novels! from the entire 20th and 21st centuries. Are these really the best we could work with?

Why on earth are we bothering with this upheaval?

I am not alone in saying this, as my twitter feed bears out. Neither do I rant at Gove in some knee-jerk ad hominem attack on all things Govine. It seems that the boards are letting us down here. No imagination and no development of breadth. Fewer texts studied than hitherto. Such a shame.

I’m not sure I shall complete part 5. I hope Edexcel raise us from the mire of mediocrity seen here. I’m off to prepare Paradise Lost for A level…