The great English Literacy debate

I read late last night about Michael Gove, Minister for Education, publishing new curricula guidelines which don’t include English Literacy as a core GCSE.  Gosh I thought.  I’ve just spent 2.5 years of my life writing workshops to promote literacy in children.  Has this been a waste of my time!  This could be bad for business!!  Further investigation required.  Obviously it will all be on the government website.


I spent the morning trying to find the list of core GCSE’s on the website.  I found a list but it doesn’t correspond to the ones the journalists are talking about so I tried to find the press release.  Can’t find that either.  I did find the curricula documents for the English Literacy and English Language GCSE’s.  Having read the latter of the two, it appears that to back up all of the grammatical and technical stuff that kids will learn they will also have to read, comprehend and debate various pieces of literature.  Hang on – isn’t that English Literacy?!  So what is English literacy GCSE – it seems to me to be more of the same but the texts are a bit more hardcore (and boring if you’re 14, let’s be honest!)


I’ve dedicated a good three hours of my life to this and I’m none the wiser.  You’ve dedicated two mins of your life to reading this blog and you’ve gained nothing either!  I should have got Wendy to write this post!


I do of course have a personal story to add to this.  At my middle school (11 – 13) I had two incredible English teachers, Mrs Bloor and Mrs Newman.  They got me doing creative writing straight away.  Turns out I was quite good at it!  They taught me how to structure sentences and essays, a few bits of Latin, how to do a crossword puzzle and gave me books that nurtured my already established love of reading.  I even produced work that was suitable for submission to GCSE graded as an A.  “Take this to high school and give it to your English teacher for submission.  You should easily get an A in English language and literature.”


So I did.  I hopped off with glee from my beautiful, small and inspiring middle school to one of the biggest schools in the world – 1000 kids in each year and 500 in the 6th form.  It was a failing school and we would often get a day off because delinquents had successfully set fire to the humanities block.  Mr Hayes was my English teacher and he was the biggest knob head ever.  Looking back I think he probably had depression.  I gave him my A grade work from my middle school.  Thank-you he said.  For the next two years he made us read Sylvia Plath.  At one point we had a break to read the Merchant of Venice.  Then we read more Sylvia Plath.  When somebody asked me what A-levels I fancied I screamed SCIENCE and MATHS.  Anything but SYLVIA BLOODY PLATH!  

It was, funnily enough, during these lessons that I started to create my own writing style.  I would sit in the class and write hilarious poems.  Then they’d get passed round.  We all had a giggle.  For my age they were really good and some of the people in those classes still have the poems!  During one particularly dark Sylvia Plath poem Kelly Taylor, intelligent and plucky class rebel, stood up and said “Mr Hayes, this poem is amazing.  You have to hear it.”  He stopped and listened.  She then read out my poem to raptures of laughter and applause.  Here was a defining moment in my life.  His reaction could change everything for me.  What would he do?  He went straight back to reading Sylvia bloody Plath.  He didn’t even tell Kelly off for interrupting him!  I went on to tick Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology on the A-level form.


Come April it was time to submit my GCSE English coursework.  I attended my 10 minute meeting with Mr Hayes to decide which pieces would be submitted for grading.  I was very excited that for both of these GCSE’s I was going to get an A!  My coursework from my middle school would bump up the overall mark as my essays on Sylvia Plath ‘lacked passion’!  


“You’ll get a B and a C” he said.

“But where is the coursework from my middle school?  That will take me to an A.”

“What coursework?”


He denied denied denied.  I protested protested protested.  I told my form teacher.  He didn’t care because a. he was a maths teacher which makes English teachers insignificant in his world and b. he was bonking another maths teacher behind his wife’s back and didn’t want to make a fuss because that would draw attention to him.

So I got a B in English language and a C in English Literature.  I went off to study science at A level and then University (I have a BSc Hons in Pharmacology which I’m sure you’ll all agree is the first qualification you’d assume me to have) and I went into Pharmaceuticals.  I was then drawn to Pharmaceutical advertising, probably because it’s the most creative outlet for that industry.  I met some-one there who introduced me to am dram and it wasn’t long before I left science behind and got back to English, Drama and Music.

I have similar stories about drama and music!  The drama teacher told me I couldn’t act and the music teacher insisted that I wasn’t good enough to play a solo in the school concert.  I had amazing science teachers!  At a time of life where I was making crucial decisions I had a bunch of armholes guiding me!

My parents filled the gap.  They are normal working class folk who wanted better for their kids so they topped up what the school gave me.  They taught me to read and gave me books that inspired and were fun.  We played for hours.  We sang!  I did endless dancing lessons.  We talked about the world.  They made me read the FT!  They taught me touch typing for which I’m eternally grateful.  They didn’t let me go under-age drinking (in all fairness I would never have got away with it as I was still being asked for ID at 30!)  They made the difference – well done parents!

According to Wikipedia I am now middle class!  

So should English Literature be on the National Curricula as a core subject for the few schools left that have to follow it?  No!  They should just be doing an English GCSE.  English Literature and English Language are intrinsically linked – don’t split them up?!!!  I would add in some drama too.  Shakespeare should not be studied from behind a desk.  

At the end of the day you can stick what you like on the National Curricula – half the schools don’t have to abide to it and if the teacher isn’t up to much the kids will leave uninspired.  Changing the curricula won’t turn the situation around, people will.  Make teaching an attractive profession and you’ll get the best people teaching.  Without good teachers it all means diddly squat.  Stop spending money reviewing what they’re teaching and invest in teachers.  

Most importantly learn from my parents!  If your child shows an interest in something encourage it, even if you don’t understand it or think it worthwhile for future earning purposes.  Then teach them how to make their own choices.  They’ll get it wrong, many times, but they’ll learn and eventually, if they’re as lucky as me, they’ll find their perfect path and will adore every second of it!




3 thoughts on “The great English Literacy debate

  1. Pingback: The Poo Fairy!

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