A new English A-level, condemned as “rubbish” by the government for including the study of comedian Russell Brand and other celebrities, has been given the go-ahead by Ofqual.
The English language and literature qualification is part of the new wave of exams that former education secretary Michael Gove said would bring more “rigour” to schools when they are introduced from next year.
But the Department for Education was unhappy when exam board OCR unveiled the content for the new A-level earlier this year.
Among the texts included for study were an interview with rap star Dizzee Rascal, tweets by journalist Caitlin Moran and Mr Brand's evidence to Parliament on drugs policy.
At the time, a DfE source said: “Schools should be aware that if they offer this rubbish in place of a proper A-level, then pupils may not get into good universities. We will expect other exam boards to do better.
“It is immensely patronising to young people to claim that they will only engage with English language and literature through celebrities such as Russell Brand.”
The DfE also noted that it would need to be accredited by Ofqual “against new, more rigorous criteria” and that it awaited the regulator’s decision with interest.
But today it was announced that Ofqual had approved the qualification, with all the controversial aspects left intact. Other texts include a TV interview with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and a lecture from artist Grayson Perry.
But students will also be expected to study more conventional writers including William Blake, George Orwell, Shakespeare and Charlotte Brontë.
Paul Dodd, OCR's director of reform, said: “We are delighted that Ofqual has accredited this fresh and exciting new specification.
“Our aim in creating the specification was to produce a course with a rich, diverse mix of content – including highly regarded contemporary texts as well as long-established works – that will inspire and engage a new generation of students.”
The exam was produced in conjunction with the English and Media Centre educational charity.
Barbara Bleiman, co-director of the centre, said the A-level would “provide a firm grounding for university and improve employability in any field that requires an ability to use the English language in a sharply focused and articulate way”.
A Department for Education said: “The criteria for English language and literature clearly set out the expectations exam boards must meet, in order to be approved.
“Decisions on whether these criteria have been met are rightly a matter for Ofqual.”
An Ofqual spokesperson added: “The content requirements for this qualification are set by Government and we set the requirements for how it should be assessed.
“We have a robust process in place to make sure the qualifications we accredit meet these requirements.”