Three Years On: Reflections on the New English Literature A Levels

By Atherton, Carol | English Drama Media, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Three Years On: Reflections on the New English Literature A Levels


Atherton, Carol, English Drama Media


Carol Atherton explores the origins of recent changes to A Level Literature and reflects on what we have learnt in the first three years of the new specifications.

Beyond Curriculum 2000 ...

In December 2005, I was part of a group of people who assembled at the University of Warwick for a conference organised by the now-defunct Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. It was a cold winter, and the wind that blew across the campus was punishingly icy, but the subject of our conference--the future of A Level--gave us a heady sense of purpose. Our task was to discuss what we wanted to see in a reformed version of A Level English Literature. We had already been given some guidelines: four units instead of six, the simplification of the Assessment Objectives, and the retention of synopticity. Apart from this, we had a lot to talk about. How many set texts would the new courses involve? Which authors and periods would students be required to cover? What kind of subject would the new version of A Level represent, and how would the Assessment Objectives reflect this?

One of the most striking aspects of the Warwick conference was how dissatisfied people were with the specifications introduced under Curriculum 2000. There was a clear consensus as to what was wrong with the current version of the subject. Back in 1999, when the Curriculum 2000 specifications were launched, there was a cautious sense of optimism about the future of A Level English Literature. Robert Eaglestone saw the new specifications as representing an important step forward for a subject that had been 'pickled in educational aspic' for far too long, engaging for the first time with theoretical ideas concerning different critical interpretations of texts and the contexts of production and reception (Eaglestone 1999).

Yet this initial promise faded relatively quickly, in a process that has been widely documented. Teachers soon found themselves bogged down in confusing allocations of marks and objectives, forced to teach texts in ways that seemed anything but logical.

Specifications initially lauded for bringing clarity to the discipline of English Literature were soon being criticised for the tortuous ways in which they required particular units to be approached. By 2005, the NATE report Text: Message: The Future of A Level English (NATE 2005) was calling for 'a fundamental review of the current model of English at ', arguing that the subject failed to provide 'an appropriate curriculum for its students'. For the authors of Text: Message, the reforms promised by Curriculum 2000 had failed: English at A Level remained 'largely uninformed by the radical changes that [had] transformed the subject in higher education' (pp 3, 5-6).

So those of us huddled against the cold at Warwick felt an enormous sense of responsibility. We needed to outline the principles that would guide A Level English Literature through its second set of major reforms in less than a decade. In doing this, we were conscious of the problems that our new version of A Level might pose for teachers already adjusting to changes elsewhere in the secondary curriculum. We wanted to lay the foundations for courses that would be challenging and stimulating, producing avid readers with a keen sense of the place of literature in relation to society, culture, history and individual lives.

We were also conscious of our responsibility to those students for whom English Literature might be a third or fourth choice, who might always find the subject a struggle and who might feel marginalised by the rhetoric that often surrounds the study of literature. Finally, we needed to think about the subject of English itself, and how the new A Level would prepare those students who would be going on to read English Literature at degree level.

We were also conscious of our responsibility to those students for whom English Literature might be a third or fourth choice, who might always find the subject a struggle and who might feel marginalised by the rhetoric that often surrounds the study of literature.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Three Years On: Reflections on the New English Literature A Levels
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.