HOW can English teachers and lecturers best prepare for the new A- and AS-level specifications? The key is the assessment objectives. A-level syllabuses have always contained these, but from September they will assume crucial importance in indicating what students should achieve. And now each objective will be given a percentage weighting to make clear what each kind of work is worth in the overall assessment. Different papers and coursework assessments will each focus on particular objectives, so tutors and students will need to know the skills being assessed.
Two of the assessment objectives in literature courses (and combined language and literature courses) are worth special mention. The first concerns the understanding of the contexts - cultural and historical - in which literary works are written and understood, and the second concerns opinions and judgments informed by awareness of the various ways in which readers may interpret the same text. Together, these objectives make up approximately 40 per cent of the assessment weighting for literature courses. The literary text remains the prime object of study, but the new specifications will encourage good practice in considering the relations between writer, reader, text and social context.
Communication (key) skills are another aspect of good practice highlighted by the new specifications. Good English practitioners want students to discuss ides, to work together to solve problems, and to make presentations. Many are interested in the potential of information and communications technology to handle data as well as in composition and communication.
The new language courses will offer the study of spoken as well as written language in society. Students will also produce original writing for specific purposes. Like the other subjects, language courses will be incremental, second-year students being expected to master higher-level skills. These will include evaluation of some of the theories studied during the course. This sounds demanding, but the specifications will allow students to reflect on micro-theories such as gendered uses of language, based on their own small-scale investigations. Language and literature come together fruitfully in the combined courses. Grammatical and generic approaches have a good deal to offer the study of literature as well as of language. It looks likely that these courses will offer a rewardingly integrated approach.
English teachers and lecturers are likely to welcome the range of assessment methods available, including coursework (30 per cent) and pre-release material. However, all literature (and language and literature) specifications include a closed-book paper, in addition to open-book and coursework assessments.
John Hodgson is chair of NATE's EnglishPost-16 Committee