Magazine article English Drama Media

They Have Listened ... a Bit: The Revised Criteria for the English GCSEs: Simon Gibbons Comments on the Draft and Revised Criteria for the New GCSEs, and Suggests Which Concerns Have Been Met, and Which Are Still at Large

Magazine article English Drama Media

They Have Listened ... a Bit: The Revised Criteria for the English GCSEs: Simon Gibbons Comments on the Draft and Revised Criteria for the New GCSEs, and Suggests Which Concerns Have Been Met, and Which Are Still at Large

Article excerpt

Following the consultation process in the Autumn of 2008, the revised (and apparently final) criteria for the new suite of English GCSEs have at last been published by QCA.

1. Issues in the draft new GCSE criteria

On their original publication, the draft criteria--to include separate qualifications in English, English Language and English Literature--raised many concerns, not only amongst members of NATE. Our initial concerns, in no particular order of importance, centred primarily upon the following issues.

i) Imagination and creativity

In the draft, there was a curious division within the English GCSE criteria, between 'English in the Daily World' and 'English in the World of the Imagination,' whereby the realm of 'Imagination' was taken to consist of literary study and creative writing, whilst the realm of 'The Daily World' related to non-fiction and media texts, a division we felt to be at odds with more enlightened thinking that sees creativity as central to our everyday uses of language, and acknowledges that creativity in texts need not be confined to the world of fiction. There also seemed to be conflict with the new National Curriculum, where creativity is one of the four 'C's and ought, therefore, to be central to students' overall experience of English.

The National Curriculum promotes creativity, cultural diversity and flexibility and suggests that it is a curriculum for the 21st century. The draft criteria seemed somewhat backward looking, with a curious notion of 'English, Irish and Welsh' heritage (and then all 'the rest') in relation to literature, and an assessment system that condemned non-fiction reading to external examination--a move that would have seemingly limited this area to print media, hardly appropriate given the scope for exploring multimodal texts within this field.

ii) Assessment issues

Though an increase in teacher assessment was welcomed, the nature of the 'controlled assessments' which are to replace coursework was not clear, and there was a fear that teachers would have little freedom in their choices of assignment. Given, too, that students entering for both Language and Literature would have had to complete different tasks even if the same text was being studied within both fields, there seemed to be the potential for a huge increase in the assessment workload for teachers. (A cynic might say that the powers-that-be wanted to do away with what they view as getting GCSEs on the cheap via crossover coursework). The tight prescription of which areas of the criteria needed to be assessed in which form also meant that examination boards would have had little flexibility and so there may have been little choice for departments when seeking a specification to meet the needs of their students.

iii) Functional Skills issues

Functional Skills were to be assessed separately, but a Level 2 would have been required if a 'C' grade at English or English Language were to be awarded. Given that the Functional Skills descriptions and those for Grade 'C' are not necessarily obviously comparable, the danger would have been--despite the criteria's claim of integration--that teachers found themselves under pressure to teach to the test for the Functional Skills component.

iv) Language v. Literature

Finally, and in some ways a result of some of the already mentioned factors, was the possible future of English Literature. Given the additional demands of the Literature criteria--six texts, 75% external examination--which on the surface appeared to increase significantly content from the current English/English Literature double entry, the worry was that Literature would again become an elitist, option subject. The focus on functional skills, the importance of the 'C' in English for the league tables, and the demands for time of other statistically important subjects would, we feared, mean that English departments felt under pressure to focus on straight English for the bulk of their students. …

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