At last, Obama meets Corbett in new English language exam

4th June 2010 at 01:00
US President and diminutive funnyman to feature in unit on spontaneous speech

Pupils could be studying the way Barack Obama, Jonathan Ross, Eddie Izzard, Jeremy Paxman and contestants on The Apprentice speak as part of an English GCSE being introduced in September.

Reality TV, stand-up comedy routines, political speeches and chat show hosts' interview techniques will feature in material for the new English language exam.

It will include a new element to English GCSEs - a unit on spoken language designed to help pupils control their image.

OCR, one of the three exam boards offering the GCSE in England, said that candidates were already given opportunities to study pre-written speeches but this still left a gap in their English education at GCSE level.

"By not including the study of spontaneous or transcribed speech, it was felt that learners were missing out on the opportunity to understand how they could use speech choices to present a certain image," the board said. "This is an invaluable opportunity to give learners more control over their self-image and thus their lives.

"They'll become more conscious of which registers are more appropriate in which scenarios, making them more likely to succeed when it comes to influencing and negotiating in everyday life, their education and the world of work."

One specimen answer from OCR for the spoken language unit compares the speech of Eddie Izzard in a television interview with presenter Jonathan Ross with one of the comedian's stand-up comedy performances.

Another compares US President Barack Obama's victory speech with an interview on the David Letterman show.

Other tasks suggested for the unit on an OCR specimen paper include studies of the spoken language in The Apprentice, the speech of comedian Ronnie Corbett or the interview techniques of TV and radio personalities John Peel, Jeremy Paxman or Michael Parkinson. A unit on speaking and listening suggests that pupils base tasks on reality TV shows including Britain's Got Talent, The Apprentice and Dragons' Den.

Bethan Marshall, senior lecturer in English and education at King's College London, said: "Looking at spoken English and developing pupils' consciousness of the spoken form is a very good thing." But she said it was important to include a literary perspective while examining the linguistic aspect of speech.

The English language GCSE will be available alongside GCSEs in English and English literature for teaching from next term.

Pupils will not be able to take an English GCSE with an English language GCSE. And for an English language GCSE to count in the league tables the pupil must also be entered for English literature.

Dr Marshall said a greater study of language could help pupils examine texts in greater detail. But there was also a danger that they could lose sight of wider literary aspects of texts.

What is in the assessment overhaul?

New GCSEs in English, English language, English literature, mathematics and ICT will be available for teaching from September

- They are designed to match the revised secondary national curriculum, support functional skills and emphasise personal, learning and thinking skills

- Most coursework has been replaced by controlled assessment where projects are carried out under supervision, sometimes with access to research sources such as the internet

- Content has been updated to reflect cultural, economic, environmental, technological and other changes since 2000, and "contemporary themes" such as globalisation, sustainability or social cohesion.

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