English Literature Is Not Another Brick in the Wall; All Pupils Should Get the Option to Study English Literature, Says Teacher Rajvi Glasbrook-Griffiths

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 16, 2017 | Go to article overview

English Literature Is Not Another Brick in the Wall; All Pupils Should Get the Option to Study English Literature, Says Teacher Rajvi Glasbrook-Griffiths


English literature is not a statutory qualification at GCSE in Wales. Consequently, many schools have made it optional or only enter their "top-set" pupils to take the exam. This is certainly the case at poet Patrick Jones' son's school, where more than two-thirds of pupils will not be given the chance.

Jones has spoken out against this as an "elitist" move, "culling aspiration along the way". In terms of the moral purpose of schools, this is an undeniable charge. For schools under enormous pressure to "get results" - five GCSEs at A*-C - it is more complex than this.

With nearly 35% of secondary schools in Wales within "red" banding, if a fifth GCSE can be something perhaps less challenging than English literature, it raises the pass rate, allowing more pupils to enter higher education. It may show a rise in "free school meal" pupils' attainment. Schools in Wales can be reported as improving, Kirsty Williams can proclaim that the deprivation attainment gap is reducing and so a key educational "mission" is being met by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

Such is the power of raw school performance data as a measure and exam results as panacea. In all this, it is difficult to find where education as a source of experience, opportunity and opener of worldview enters.

Typical GCSE set texts like Of Mice and Men or Macbeth are, for many, the first insight into life beyond the everyday. Whether predicted an A* or a D, reading and discussing these books in a classroom with a teacher and peers opens new ways of thinking, and brings awareness of the inventiveness of language.

The English language GCSE syllabus is important but different and so not a compensation. Newspaper articles and persuasive advertisements are not equivalent to literary classics. Removing universal access to experience these with the shortterm aim of bagging a secure GCSE is indeed, as Patrick Jones calls it, elitism.

It is not a leap in logic to anticipate that children growing up in homes without books will be less likely to choose English literature as a qualification, given the option. …

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