Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Heritage secured?

Richard Wilcocks writes:

Catching up on the details of the ‘other’ news after flying back to England, I see that last Wednesday’s Guardian carried an article headed Minister secures place of ‘heritage’ novels on schools list.

Two of the Brontë sisters, we are told, will be staying in the Key Stage 3 (11 - 14) curriculum, along with Austen, Dickens and Trollope, and George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Doris Lessing ‘may be removed’. So that’s Charlotte and Emily in, Anne out, Animal Farm no longer essential.

I like to flatter myself that the Education Secretary Alan Johnson was deeply moved by the interview with me on page three of the previous Friday’s Times Education Supplement, so much so that he rushed to his publicity department to prepare a statement, but of course everything must have been put in motion months previously. If he was moved by anything, it would have been by charges that the government dumbs things down in the curriculum.

Probably , the news release was just another item on the normal August agenda for Johnson and the newspapers. Advanced level (taken by 18 year-olds just before starting higher education) examination results come out on Thursday, and as usual some of the newspapers will take note of a large number of A grades and leap to accuse schools, examination boards and the government of dumbing things down to make things easier. Perish the thought that students could be working harder.

Editors might feel the need to take a break from pictures of airline passengers clasping little plastic bags or stories about conflict in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is a good strategy for the minister to get in shortly beforehand to make sure that the public registers the fact that the national heritage is being promoted and that the government is not in favour of dumbing down.

In fact, all that will happen is that a long list of prescribed authors will be tweaked. It does not mean that the current situation will automatically improve, or that the problem with what is termed ‘extended reading’ will be adequately addressed.

It is relatively easy to make a list, harder to deliver proper sympathetic advice to teachers to make sure that it is well used. And if you happen to be a teacher or lecturer reading this, remember that the Parsonage does supply that sort of advice.

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