Education: Talkback

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From Mrs Anne Barnes

Sir: The telephone has been ringing a lot in this office today. 'What about the book lists then?' people ask darkly. Presumably they have all read Judith Judd's article ('Schools' modern book list cut to 12 authors', 8 October) in which she described the latest stage in the great English National Curriculum debate. Apparently the 20th-century authors have been taken out of the list of authors from whose works teachers must select texts for study at Key stages 3 and 4.

The list of modern writers is still there, but the important thing is that it is now simply a list of examples of what one might read or, more accurately, what people of a particular sort remember fondly from their own schooldays. It is not prescriptive and could therefore be ignored with impunity. Only the list of pre-20th century writers remains compulsory.

Teachers will need to make sure that, in the course of teaching what they thought most useful and rewarding for their particular pupils, they have included, for instance, a Wordsworth sonnet and something written by Dickens.

'Is it better or worse?' people ask. The answer must be that yes, it is better (in that it is less prescriptive) but it is still odd. Any sort of list which seems to be based more on personal whim than clear criteria is bound to be annoying, and if there is no compulsory element in it then what is the point? It could have been an opportunity to suggest a full and wide range of contemporary writers that teachers might not have considered before. However, that's not what we're going to be offered.

This is going to be a very short list of old familiars such as Conrad, James Joyce, DH Lawrence. Possibly Virginia Woolf or Doris Lessing might scrape in to show that women can write too, but that's about as far as the adventure goes.

What are teachers to make of this? Some will find it funny that they have to be reminded about the books in their stock cupboards. Others will feel disappointed that it is all so obvious. Either way, they will continue to select their texts carefully and make sure those they choose are ones they can teach with enthusiasm.

Perhaps the people who will really suffer are those who have had to make up the wretched lists. They will be embroiled in this tedious debate for some time to come.

Yours faithfully,

ANNE BARNES

General Secretary

National Association for

the Teaching of English

Sheffield

11 October

From Mr Tim Montgomerie

Sir: Your report on schools' failure to meet Parliament's standards for the religious content of assemblies (6 October) shows how far the whole community still needs to go in ensuring that children learn more of the spiritual dimension to life.

While I respect individual teachers who might have conscientious objections to taking part in active worship or religious teaching, it is not right for them to subvert the democratically expressed wish of electors for a religious dimension to the curriculum in the schools they fund.

Children live in a culture in which situational ethics dominate to the detriment of responsible, faithful relationships. Parliament has correctly decided that children need to have an understanding of the Judaeo-

Christian heritage that shapes our nation's development. An understanding which may lead to a deeper faith.

Teachers may legitimately prefer not to stand in front of a class to talk about something they do not believe in. However, those teachers should be ready to stand aside to allow other members of the community to lead their pupils in worship and Christian learning according to society's wishes.

Yours faithfully,

TIM MONTGOMERIE

Chairman

Conservative Christian

Fellowship

London N2

9 October

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