Number 4

Second Reading: a Report Debating the Present State of English at AS and A Level and Identifying Priorities for Revising the English Subject Criteria, by Adrian Barlow

Publication date: November 2005

With new subject criteria for English about to be drawn up by QCA and revised specifications due to be developed by the awarding bodies in the coming year, the debate about the future direction of English at AS and A level is more urgent than ever.

Second Reading, the English Association’s newly published report, is an important contribution to this debate. Its findings are controversial and are designed to pave the way for a fresher approach to English teaching in the sixth form. The report has now been submitted to the Secretary of State for Education and to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Part 1: Introduction

Part 1 sets out the context for the report and identifies key needs to be highlighted in the main body of the report:

  • The need to decide whether English at A level has been well served by being divided into three free-standing subjects or whether it should be treated as a single integrated subject through which teachers can select the most appropriate routes for their students
  • The need for substantial revision to the Subject Criteria (in particular the Assessment Objectives)
  • The need to rediscover a stronger emphasis on creativity in the teaching, studying and assessment of English at this level
  • The need to address issues of progression both from GCSE to AS/A level and from A level to English Studies in Higher Education
  • The need for Higher Education to make clear what knowledge and skills it expects students to possess at the start of an English degree course, and to ensure that new teachers are themselves equipped to teach these.

Part 2: Curriculum 2000 and A level English now

Part 2 reviews the current Subject Criteria for AS/A level English after the first five years of the Curriculum 2000 specifications. The review includes:

  • an analysis of the statistical evidence of student and centre participation before and since the introduction of Curriculum 2000
  • a commentary on the current Subject Criteria and of their impact on English departments, together with
  • an assessment of teacher experience of introducing and teaching the new specifications
  • a discussion of the impact of modular assessment on teaching and learning in English at AS/A level
  • a summary of issues of progression, transition and integration (from GCSE to AS / A level to HE), including the role of AEA and other proposals for identifying potential in high-achieving candidates.

Part 3: Redefining English and revising AS/A level Subject Criteria

Part 3 sets out the EA’s proposals for revision of the Subject Criteria. It begins with a statement of the need for a clear vision of English and argues the case for a single set of Subject Criteria covering both language and literature. It concludes by identifying and discussing the specific issues that need to be addressed in Subject Criteria revision, including:

  • relaxing the excessive prescriptiveness of current criteria and subject cores, particularly the assessment objectives
  • adopting the Tomlinson proposal that assessment should put more emphasis on sampling rather than aiming for complete coverage of all subject content
  • defining the place of an extended project within or alongside AS English and arguing the case for coursework and increased opportunities for creative approaches to literary and language study
  • redefining the importance of synoptic assessment and evaluating the lessons to be learned from the success of AEA English
  • emphasising the need for ‘functional English’ at post-16 to embrace the importance of independent learning and oral as well as written skills.

ISBN 0 900232 22 6 53pp


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