I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven's gate
Built in Jerusalem's wall.
William Blake, from 'Jerusalem'
Even more than usual, writing this book is no easy matter. Secondary-level English teaching in England and Wales at the start of the twenty-first century appears to be in a state of some confusion. In our experience, its practitioners often feel beset by internal philosophical and practical divisions, and by externally formulated governmental and quasi-governmental policies and targets. In the context of this book especially, offering an essentially Romantic conception of the nature of English teaching and learning, there arise particularly contentious - and fiercely contested - assertions, issues and tensions.
The vast majority of practising English teachers and student teachers continue to be drawn to creative, inspirational models of English teaching, as underlined by recent research (Marshall 2000; Marshall et al. 2001), and by countless professional conversations with practising and preparing English teachers. Yet, it is precisely these pedagogical models which are frequently perceived to be under threat in what may be seen as an overcrowded, over-prescribed, over-tested curriculum overly focused on basic literacy. As Ellis (2002:1) puts it:
The prodigious volume of initiatives, frameworks, standards, audits, skills tests, performance indicators and all the other monstrous paraphernalia of a technocratic, accountability-obsessed bureaucracy have truly destructive effects; they sap teachers' creative energies, they regard the teaching of reading and writing as a science (in which we can guarantee exactly what effect X or Y will have on children) and they disengage individual teachers from a community of shared knowledge and values … that gives us a sense of purpose and an identity.