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Shaky obsession

What is it with politicians and Shakespeare? In 1992, education secretary John Patten sparked a revolt among English teachers when he ordered that 14-year-olds must be taught (and worse, tested) on the Bard. His stated - laudable - aim: education should open doors for children.

Last year the Government ducked the advice of its own curriculum quango to cut the Shakespeare test to 45 minutes for fear of what the Daily Mail might say. The QCA has done it anyway, substituting a writing test tenuously linked to Shakespeare for part of the exam. English teachers are again in uproar. If Shaky must be tested, they ask, why not through meaningful coursework (as in public exams) rather than mechanical tasks?

They have a point: why bother teaching Shakespeare at all if not to help pupils enjoy the literature at the heart of our culture? But that argument is a closed book to this tickbox-obsessed generation of workaholic politicians.

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