Forced to balance texts and costs

8th March 1996 at 00:00
The sheer amount of literature students of English have to study comes as a shock to most teachers, writes Elaine Williams.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority now requires all English syllabuses to be precise in their demands for coverage of drama, prose, poetry, media, literature from other cultures and non-literary texts.

The increase in the percentage of marks given for final examination and the range of genres has enormous implications for school-book budgets. With pupils allowed to annotate books and take them into examination, the life of a text is shorter than it used to be. Few English departments can stretch to replacing sets of books on a regular basis.

Two exam boards, the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board and London Examinations, fear that these costs risk making English literature once again an examination for more able students.

To pre-empt this threat to their business they have set about producing anthologies intended to save departments from having to purchase any texts for the final examinations.

London's anthology Tracks, a 56-page publication, was produced in-house. NEAB has gone into partnership with Heinemann Educational to produce a 96-page book free to each of its English and English literature.

The anthology is costing NEAB about 60p per pupil (a huge investment when you consider a 300,000 print run), but it believes a 2 per cent increase on its present 40 per cent share of the English GCSE market will cover the cost.

Heinemann is producing a teacher's file with advice on how to teach the anthology for Pounds 44.50, and a pupil book Working with the NEAB anthology for Pounds 3.99, both available from September.

Peter Dawson, the NEAB's assistant chief executive for finance, said the anthology would be justified by additional entries. "The signs are very good," he said. "If this is successful we will consider similar initiatives in other subjects."

Partnerships between exam boards and educational publishers are becoming increasingly common as teachers' demand for resource material grows.

The Midlands Examining Group, however, has placed the onus on producing an "exciting", wide-ranging booklist for English rather than an anthology. "We consulted with teachers," said Ron McClone, "and they didn't want an anthology. "

Pam Rodgers, head of English at the Queen Elizabeth High School, Hexham in Northumberland, has her doubts about anthologies although she does currently use the NEAB.

She said: "The NEAB is an excellent board but I am worried about this anthology. I am worried about 70 per cent of the marks being based on something that is not a proper book.

"The set texts, which I could use as an alternative, are weighted towards the weaker student and would not excite many of my pupils. If a list was worth having then I would go for that rather than sell my soul for a freebie. "

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