The key features for English are:
- Grading will now be numerical, with 9 being the highest score and 1 the lowest.
- English will be examined as ‘English Language’ and ‘English Literature’. Literature is not compulsory.
- Both specifications will be linear with assessment in the Summer. November resit opportunities for English language only.
- Both English specifications will be assessed by untiered, external exam only.
- There are no set texts, but students will be expected to read ‘a wide range of texts’.
- Reading is broken down into: critical reading and comprehension; summary and synthesis; evaluation of a writer’s choice of vocabulary, form and structural features.
- Writing is broken down into: producing clear and coherent text; writing for impact.
- Spoken language is broken down into: presenting information and ideas; responding to spoken language (listening and responding appropriately to any questions and feedback); spoken standard English.
- There will be a speaking assessment, which will be reported separately.
- 20% of the marks are allocated to spelling, punctuation and grammar.
- Emphasis on ‘classic literature’ and ‘substantial whole texts in detail’. Students will study: Shakespeare; 19th Century Novel; selection of poetry since 1789, including Romantic poetry; fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards.
- The exam must include unseen texts.
- Reading broken down into: literal and inferential comprehension; critical reading; evaluation of the writer’s choice of vocabulary, grammatical and structural features; comparing texts.
- Writing about literature is described as ‘writing effectively about literature for a range of purposes’. However, the AO spells out that students should be able to ‘maintain a critical style’ so it doesn’t look as if creative responses are a possibility.
- 5% of the marks are allocated to spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Some first thoughts from EMC
The fears that many individuals and organisations, including EMC, expressed during the consultation period appear to be well-founded. In the subject content for Language, the speaking and listening component is a shadow of its former self; media and the digital world are ignored; studying spoken language no longer appears anywhere; SPaG and standard English account for a large part of what is assessed. The only element which seems to have been significantly changed in response to the concerns raised in the consultation is that, instead of standing alone as a category (in a rather odd way) the Romantics have now been incorporated into the other poetry requirements for Literature.
The subject content for Literature seems quite deliberately aimed at putting some students off the subject. The criteria offer a very limited view of the canon, with only one out of four requirements mentioning texts written since 1914. EMC believes that all students have an entitlement to study pre-1914 texts and ‘substantial whole texts’ but the narrowness of what is on offer risks turning the subject into one accessible to only a narrow range of students.
Polly Toynbee wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian in defence of GCSE Literature for all in response to a letter on the same theme sent to the Sunday Times by several well-known authors and academics. Toynbee’s article and the letter don’t, however, take note of the most recent pronouncements on changes to the proposed accountability measures, which will give strong incentives for schools to enter all students for GCSE Literature, despite it not being part of the official core group of subjects. We have done our best to explain these very complicated new rules in our blog.
Since the National Curriculum was introduced, GCSE English has been through many incarnations but this one seems the most backward looking. Much is made of competing with the best and brightest on the modern global stage; producing a curriculum which could have been written pretty much anytime since the First World War seems a funny way to go about it.
It will be interesting to see what the awarding bodies manage to produce in the way of specifications. The rules of their relationship with Ofqual during the writing process have been changed – repeated draft submissions to Ofqual will be penalized – and unfortunately this makes it more difficult for those writing the specification to take the risk of an imaginative interpretation of the criteria and see if it will fly.
Once the specifications are available, EMC will be running a ‘Choosing and Planning Your GCSE Specification’ course to help you to navigate your way through, holding on to good practice while adapting to the changes.