Pupils' creativity is being stifled

13th October 2006 at 01:00
English now has the sort of centralised, prescriptive curriculum that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. It has become reductive and there is a clear stifling of creativity in English classrooms.

We are dominated by an assessment led and data driven regime. We all know it is possible to train pupils to perform in tests, but that is not the same as educating them! Indeed, it is too easy in English to model test answers or assignments which effectively silence pupils' own voices and creative instincts.

At key stage 3, texts have been reduced to fragmented extracts and used for illustrative purposes. The situation is often no better at KS4. It is quite possible to achieve an A* in English literature without having fully read a novel or play.

The GCSE examination boards almost seem to collude in this fragmented study. In the AQA's teachers' guide to the 2004 GCSE exams, there are suggestions for setting coursework for the pre-1914 novel. One offers this as an assignment for the prose study: "Look carefully at the opening chapter of Hard Times and explore the ways in which Dickens' attitudes to education are presented."

For the Shakespeare, it suggests: "Direct a scene, or scenes, choosing a particular historical period in which to place the play."

When assignments are worth up to 5 per cent of the marks for the English course, there is every incentive for teachers to study only selective sections of a play or novel.

It is vital that we give pupils access to literature and allow them a voice. As Michael Morpurgo told me recently: "Government should unchain teachers. They should simply be well trained and trusted."

Anthony Farrell is head of English at St Ives school, Cornwall

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