'Being spoonfed at GCSE got me the grades, but has left me behind at A level'

This student explains that she has been left completely unprepared for the independence of study at A level because of the spoon feeding strategies at GCSE


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"Does Shakespeare present Othello’s fatal flaw of jealousy as the cause of Desdemona’s death? Or is Desdemona’s naivety a tragic trap that leads to her fatality?" 

We sit bewildered. So this is A-level English. This wasn't how it was at GCSE. Not at all. 

Pedestrian is definitely the word I would use to describe my GCSE English experience. From coursework to prepping for exams, the teachers had an affinity for spoonfeeding. Rather than engaging in class discussions where ideas are exchanged and developed, I and many of my peers passively processed the answers being given to us. This was truly disappointing when the likes of Shakespeare and Andrew Marvell were the topic of discussion – or rather the topic of passive learning. 

However, as painful as it is to admit, it did result in a successful outcome on results day. The teachers did what they had to do to get us over the line. 

Limited approach

What they did not do, though, is prepare me for the independence and high level thinking required at A level.  

I think it’s safe to say that there is a dramatic jump in learning from GCSE to A level – almost as dramatic as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. As a current A-level English student, I can tell you that the passion and inquisitiveness required to tackle the texts at A level is not something that can be learned over-night. 

From the very beginning I was at the bottom of a learning pit, thanks to my lack of confidence and the missing independent thinking I should have been helped to adopt at GCSE. Delving deep and exploring authorial methods from different perspectives in comparative texts such as The Great Gatsby and The Awakening is something that still leaves me frazzled. If that isn’t enough, teacher expectations on homework and reading outside of class are unrealistically high. Spoonfeeding may have been the answer at GCSE but it certainly isn’t at A level.  

I fear the next step. What will happen when I reach higher education? University is the epitome of independence. Studying English at university makes it absolutely necessary to hold your own firm view as well as considering counter-arguments. Writing two-thousand word essays will not exactly be a walk in the park if you aren’t completely confident in your own opinion.

Collaborative effort

So how do we solve this long –term problem that seems to be affecting students’ achievement across the country? 

Well, we take two-steps back to GCSE and change the style of learning that currently dominates classrooms. The quality of learning can be enhanced by having more engaging discussions, student presentations, group projects and an increase in independent tasks. Personally, I think it is mandatory for a change in teaching and learning to take place immediately. Teachers must identify a limit to spoonfeeding and students must take it upon themselves to seek independence. Meeting in the middle and creating a balance is the only way forward.

The writer is a Year 12 student in London

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