Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Throwaway Reforms

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Throwaway Reforms

Article excerpt

Marty, our head of English, came to see me a little while back with two questions. The first I had been expecting: "Can I have lots of money to buy texts for the new GCSE? We'll need 400 copies of Pride and Prejudice for starters. Hardy and Dickens to follow."

I waited for the second question.

"Can I have a skip?"

All revolutions are defined by what gets dumped in a skip. Marty needed to clear the shelves to make room for the new regulation English classics. And there are three time-honoured options for schools with surplus dog-eared books or outdated clockwork computers: give them to a primary, send them to Africa or chuck them in a skip.

In this brave new world, not only do you need to be white, male and dead to be worthy of study, you need to be British as well. So into the skip goes Of Mice and Men (too American), To Kill a Mockingbird (too American, too female) and Purple Hibiscus (too African).

Marty's visit reminded me that the revolution is beginning to bite. Coursework - and its prim, corseted niece, controlled assessment - are gone. Grade boundaries are higher. You can study only classics from the English canon. Learning about anything written in the US or, God forbid, Africa is an act of subversion. Get your English Baccalaureate passport or be damned.

The last time we tried this was with O-levels. They were designed only for the top 20 per cent of children, and of course not all of them passed. Now it's the whole cohort and off to hell in the Ofsted handcart if you slip below national standards. …

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