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Pupils lose art of essay writing

English teachers tell Anna Bawden how the demands on A-level students have changed.

Lyn Crabtree, course leader, A-level English, Cardinal Newman college, Preston, Lancashire "We find the assessment objectives problematic. We are just ticking boxes.

Pupils have to show that they've critically analysed the text and have used external critics. Weaker pupils just bolt on critics' views, but we can still tick the box, because they have used them. It's a formulaic approach.

Jon Long, head of English, Godalming college, Surrey "I like the new exams. I don't think they've got any easier. One of the assessment objectives candidates have to meet is that they should take into account other interpretations of the text. The questions are still very challenging and I believe standards have been maintained. The old system of exams was a bit vague and unfocused. However, there has obviously been grade inflation."

Bett Edwards, head of English, Camden school for girls, north London "The exams are still essay-based and so we have noticed very little change since Curriculum 2000. Our students do an extended piece of coursework of between 2,500 and 4,000 words, which is the most successful thing they do.

They have a free choice of text. The work put into this spins off into the exam and it's just a question of teaching them exam technique."

Lyndsay Vincent, English A-level teacher, Worthing sixth-form college, West Sussex "I think the English languageA-level is equally demanding, if not more so, than it was before. Students still have to apply linguistic terminology and theory in a rigorous way. They must still discuss and talk about research.

I would like to keep this format. It does aid the less able but also challenges the most able."

Sue McKinnon, course leader, English language A-level, Wyke college, Hull "The new exams make for greater equality in A-level assessment. I feel that there is rigour in the assessment method and the two-stage approach has helped students from less privileged backgrounds stay the course.

Candidates have to press the right buttons in answers but they also have to thoroughly understand what they are doing."

Jane Doar, head of English, Guildford county school, Surrey "In general the exams make A-level English more accessible to a wider range of people. Certainly we now have a 50:50 ratio of boys to girls, which we never used to have. The current structure is appreciably harder than when I sat the A-level 20 years ago. Pupils have to analyse the socio-historical context which we never used to do."

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