Scrap English Literature A-level, teachers demand

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The Independent Online

English literature should be scrapped as a separate exam at A-level, according to a report by the National Association of Teachers of English.

The report says the subject fails to give youngsters the skills they need to write academic essays. Instead, it concentrates too heavily on studying a small number of texts in detail, and writing about them without developing a broader understanding of current culture. As a result, the subject should be merged with the English language A-level, and include study of the modern media.

The move has upset supporters of the exam who claim it would lead to a reduction in the study of classic literature. Some say it will end the study of writers such as Chaucer and Dickens, and usher in the study of more contemporary authors.

Claire Fox, of the Institute of Ideas and a former English teacher, said: "One suspects there is an irritating anti-elitist agenda at work here. The very act of reading great literature should help you develop an understanding of great literature and therefore help you improve your writing."

The report, "The Future of A-level English", says: "The dramatic difference between the school and university English creates difficulties for many students. As student numbers increase, pressure on staff rises, particularly as there is a clear need to address the difficulties many students face in writing academic essays."

This is brought about, it says, by the English literature exam's "almost exclusive emphasis on the close study of a small number of lengthy texts read in isolation from each other - an emphasis that contributes largely to the course's lack of breadth".

The report says the "rigid division" of English into "language" and "literature" studies is "no longer appropriate" at A-level. Students can now study either English literature or English language - with most (50,082) opting for literature. Only 14,971 study language. There is a separate English literature and language exam, but it is taken by only 14,694.

The authors add that English should offer a broader and more practical education to equip those who do not go to university with the skills they need to communicate.

Ms Fox said: "I can't believe they're saying this. They're even admitting that what they're doing is moving away from the study of literature. If you learn to read literature with a degree of sophistication, then that should rub off on you and help develop your writing ability."

The report's findings are being passed on to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the exams watchdog, which is reviewing how English is taught.