EBac could be rewritten to include English lit

25th March 2011 at 00:00
`Absurd' omission may be reversed by `late spring'

Ministers are considering adding English literature to the English Baccalaureate (EBac) following warnings that the subject's exclusion from the controversial league table measure is "absurd".

The EBac is designed to encourage "academic rigour", but experts say it could lead to fewer pupils studying the great writers because an English literature GCSE does not count towards it.

Now The TES has learnt that ministers could reverse their decision as soon as "late spring", with a Department for Education spokesman saying: "We are aware of the concerns out there."

In its current form, the EBac appears to contradict ministers' views on the importance of literature.

Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "To qualify for the EBac you only have to pass an English GCSE, which isn't particularly literary.

"Despite (education secretary) Michael Gove's claims of how important English literature is, that won't be the reality with the EBac. This could well lead to a reduction in the study of English literature."

Bethan Marshall, senior lecturer in English and education at King's College, London said excluding the subject from the EBac was "mad really, it is ridiculous".

She said the measure was generally too narrow and would result in pressure "from school senior management saying it is really important that these kids get English GCSE rather than English literature".

The comments came as Mr Gove contrasted the amount of literature read by pupils in England with a top US charter school.

"I think we should, as a nation, be saying that our children should be reading 50 books a year, not just one or two for GCSE," he told the Daily Telegraph this week.

In October Mr Gove said: "The great tradition of our literature - Dryden, Pope, Swift, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Austen, Dickens and Hardy - should be at the heart of school life.

"Our literature is the best in the world - it is every child's birthright and we should be proud to teach it in every school."

To qualify for the EBac, pupils need at least grade C GCSEs or IGCSEs in English or English language, two sciences, maths, history or geography, and a language.

Mr McNeilly said the measure could squeeze schools' timetables. They would be more likely to switch from separate English language and literature GCSEs to a single general English GCSE, in which literature makes up only a fifth of the qualification.

"This is an equal opportunities issue," he said. "Are certain students who would benefit from English literature going to be denied the opportunity to study our great writers, as Mr Gove talks about, in depth and breadth?"

Dr Marshall said she thought schools would be able to continue to offer English literature even if there was less room in the timetable.

But she added: "It is really absurd that English literature isn't in the EBac."

The DfE spokesman said: "We're looking at whether we should include English literature in future EBac subject combinations - but no final decision has been taken."

NEW GCSE DATA: No equivalents

New Government figures being published on Thursday will reveal how many pupils in every school achieved five A*to C GCSEs, including English and maths - but with "equivalent" qualifications removed.

The figures will also give a breakdown by school of the grades achieved in different GCSE subjects.

The Department for Education said the publication would remove "perverse incentives".

"For too long, parents have been unable to see the true picture of how their local schools have performed," a spokesman said.

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