Friday, 1 May 2009

Reading Between the Lines

I had intended to blog today about the wonderful fact that Carol Ann Duffy is our new Poet Laureate. It's a poignant joy given that U.A. Fanthorpe died earlier this week, but I think she's probably smiling right now, anyway.

Instead, I'm very very cross. The reason is this BBC News article which is naturally based 'on figures published by the Conservatives.' It's all about dropping numbers taking English Literature GCSE. The fact that 37% of those on Free School Meals (used as a proxy variable for socio-economic status in education research) do not take the subject, compared to 28% overall, is seen as 'evidence' that the 'poorer pupils' are missing out on 'our country's cultural heritage.' I imagine that the Daily Mail will be reporting this story with the tag question 'has the world gone mad?'

The answer is no, it hasn't. Nor are those pupils who do not take English Literature GCSE missing out on Shakespeare and other great literature. Near the bottom of the article, in a quiet sort of way, the BBC does manage to put in Schools' Minister Jim Knight, who rightly points out that English GCSE contains elements of both English Language and English Literature study. (Incidently this is the reason why anyone who claims to have a GCSE in English Language is lying. There is no such thing.)

Lots of people don't take English Literature for good reasons. Such as the fact that they are struggling with English in the first place and need the time to make sure they get a good grade in the subject which is going to be an essential qualification for them to get a job, get into sixth form, get 'five good GCSEs.' Most schools teach English and English Literature in the same space of time that Maths gets to do one GCSE. It's a squash and forcing everyone to do English Literature will in fact have the effect of disadvantaging, not advantaging some pupils.

Then there's the fact that some pupils do Media Studies instead. (Cue shouts: Has the world gone mad?) Actually, studies have shown that for some pupils doing Media Studies instead of English Literature boosts their English result. Studying something that is both of interest to them and ties in with their strengths makes them better learners of allied subjects.

It might seem an odd stance for an English teacher to take, but honestly, the Conservatives are just being lazy in declaring this 'shocking.' They're looking for cheap shots, but like the good critical reader and media student that I am, I can read between the lines to tell you... don't believe everything you read!

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