Literature's greats evade reforming hatchet;Briefing;Curriculum 2000;English;News and opinion

26th November 1999 at 00:00
In the struggle to appease its critics the Government has produced an English curriculum which has disappointed many teachers. Jon Slater reports

SATISFYING the traditionalists while giving teachers greater freedom was always going to be an impossible balancing act.

While teachers' organisations asked for trust in their members' professional judgment, conservatives demanded that literature's giants should be guaranteed a place in the curriculum.

It seems the traditionalists have won. Teachers hoping that the new curriculum would give them greater freedom over what they teach will have little to cheer.

Originally, the plan was to make the choice of texts for secondary teachers optional, with a slimmed-down recommended list to guide them.

But after negative press reports - one paper claimed that established authors were being "ditched for modern tales of drugs and football" - ministers intervened to compel schools to teach the classics.

Secondary teachers will now have to choose works from a list of pre-1914 poets and novelists which includes old favourites omitted from the initial list. However, they retain the right to make their own choice of modern playwrights and non-fiction authors.

"I can't see any educational reasons for the decisions they've made," said Ruth Moore, vice-chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English. "We're extremely disappointed about the prescribed texts. We thought we'd won the argument on that one. Teachers are accused of being the forces of conservatism, but when we offer change they won't accept it."

However, Nick Seaton of the traditionalist Campaign for Real Education who led the attack on the original proposals believes the Government has still been too liberal. "I and a lot of other people would rather have seen a short list of seminal authors who were compulsory, so all children got a grounding in the greats of English literature," he said.

But the Qualificaltion and Curriculum Authority is unrepentant. "It was important to get the balance right between defining the core of knowledge and

cultural experience which are the entitlement of all pupils and making the curriculum as flexible as possible. The decision to make the lists of pre-1914 authors and poets statutory, and the others exemplary, achieves that," a spokesman said.

NATE are also worried that the Government has missed an opportunity to modernise the

curriculum. "We are very disappointed by the schemes of work. The key stage 3 ones are very formal in approach. They take us back 20 years," said Ms Moore.

However, other parts of the curriculum are likely to be more welcome to teachers. Drama takes a more central place in the curriculum and there is further movement towards increasing the use of media and information technology, although some will be disappointed by the relatively slow pace of change.

When the curriculum arrives in staffrooms over the coming weeks, the reaction is likely to be mixed. Moves have been made to give teachers greater freedom and modernise lessons but many will share Ms Moore's "genuine disappointment that it is not

radical change".


Teachers must choose two of these major pre-1914 writers Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, John Bunyan, Wilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Henry James, Mary

Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson. Jonathan Swift, Anthony

Trollope, HG Wells.

They must also choose four of these major pre-1914 poets

Matthew Arnold, Elizabeth

Barrett Browning, William Blake, Emily Bronte, Robert Browning, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Donne, John Dryden,

Thomas Gray, George Herbert, Robert Herrick, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, Alexander Pope, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare (sonnets), Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edmund Spenser, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry Vaughan, William

Wordsworth, Sir Thomas Wyatt.

Major writers after 1914

EM Forster, William Golding, Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, James Joyce, DH Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, George Orwell, Muriel Spark, William Trevor, Evelyn Waugh.

Major poets after 1914

WH Auden, Gillian Clark, Keith Douglas, TS Eliot, UA Fanthorpe, Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Edward Thomas,

RS Thomas, WB Yeats.

Major playwrights

William Congreve, Oliver Goldsmith, Christopher Marlowe, Sean O'Casey, Harold Pinter, JB Priestley, Peter Shaffer, George Bernard Shaw, RB Sheridan, Oscar Wilde.

Recent and contemporary drama, fiction and poetry

Drama: Alan Ayckbourn,

Samuel Beckett, Alan Bennett, Robert Bolt, Brian Friel, Willis Hall, David Hare, Willie Russell, RC Sherriff, Arnold Wesker.

Fiction: JG Ballard, Berlie Doherty, Susan Hill, Laurie Lee, Joan Lingard, Bill Naughton, Alan Sillitoe, Mildred Taylor, Robert Westall.

Poetry: Simon Armitage, James Berry, Douglas Dunn, Liz Lochhead, Adrian Mitchell, Edwin Muir, Grace Nichols, Jo Shapcott.

Drama, fiction and poetry by major writers from different cultures and traditions

Drama: Athol Fugard, Arthur Miller, Wole Soyinka, Tennessee Williams.

Fiction: Chinua Achebe, Maya Angelou, Willa Cather, Anita Desai, Nadine Gordimer, Ernest Hemingway, HH Richardson, Doris Lessing, RK Narayan, John Steinbeck, Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Poetry: EK Brathwaite, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, Les Murray, Rabindranath Tagore, Derek Walcott.


Personal records and viewpoints on society: Peter Ackroyd, James Baldwin, John Berger, James Boswell, Vera Brittain, Lord Byron. William Cobbett, Gerald Durrell, Robert Graves, Samuel Johnson, Laurie Lee, Samuel Pepys, Flora Thompson, Beatrice Webb, Dorothy


Travel writing: Jan Morris, Freya Stark, Laurens Van Der Post.

Reportage: James Cameron, Winston Churchill, Alistair Cooke, Dilys Powell.

The natural world: David

Attenborough, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin, Steve Jones.

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