April 2013

Response to the consultation on National Curriculum Reform

As well as the responses of the individual bodies who make up the Common English Forum, the Forum also responded as a body to the consultation

The following comments are the result of recent and ongoing discussions within THE COMMON ENGLISH FORUM, a body which represents all the subject associations which have a professional interest and expertise in the teaching of English at all levels within the educational system. (The associations represented are: The English Association, The National Association for the Teaching of English, The English and Media Centre, The United Kingdom Literacy Association, The Institute of English Studies, The Council for College and University English, The Higher Education Academy, The Association of Advisers in English).

There are many points in the consultation document which we welcome. In particular: the encouragement to individual teachers to shape their own curriculum within the guidelines suggested; the centrality of reading, writing, and speaking; the encouragement of a love of reading, wide reading, and reading for pleasure on the part of students, and the emphasis on looking at whole texts; the acknowledgement of the importance of the analytical study of language. However, we do share a number of concerns about particular issues, which we feel the consultation document fails to address appropriately. These are as follows:

  • Spoken English is too narrowly defined, and there is too great an emphasis on formal presentations and insufficient acknowledgement of the importance of speaking as a means of exploring ideas and supporting learning. We are also concerned about the absence of reference to listening: speaking and listening are coordinated activities and we would not wish to see their importance within the subject diminished. We think that the term ‘standard’ English is in need of definition and refinement if it is to be used in any future documentation.
  • We are also concerned about what seems to be the marginalisation of drama within the subject. Drama is more than merely a matter of role play or reading aloud and is an important medium through which students can explore and understand literary texts, both play-texts and others.
  • We think that the subject of English is often too narrowly defined and based on a model which does not reflect the world of the early twenty-first century. In particular we are extremely concerned at the absence of any reference to digital, media, multi-modal texts, or film. The emphasis on the importance of letter-writing, for example, seems not to take into account the changing and developing modes of written communication.
  • Similarly, whilst we are happy that students should have acquaintance with ‘our rich and varied literary heritage’, we are concerned at the absence of any reference to other cultures and their traditions, and the consequent marginalisation of multicultural or multilingual texts.
  • We think that is important that the teaching of grammar should take place in an appropriate context, which is to say that it should be integrated with the programmes of study in reading and writing, and not be taught simply as sets of rules which have little bearing on the way in which language is actually used. We would point out that the DfE’s own published research supports our preferred model of grammar teaching. We feel that the same approach should be adopted to the teaching of spelling.
  • The current proposals have considerable implications for teacher training. If the new curriculum is to be successfully delivered, it requires a committed and well-informed teaching force. We would urge that before the new Curriculum is implemented, the CPD requirements of those who will be teaching it will be acknowledged and supported.
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