Thursday, 19 March 2009

Controlling the Curriculum and Fixing History for Progressive New Labour

Set books have been with long-suffering school students always. Doubtless any of you can produce a high-pitched sustained note signalling brain distress over almost any work that was required study in the years you were going through the mill. Never, and then again, will I open Corneille. Any Corneille.

Transferring the choice of set books from the control of examination boards to the control of the secretary of state for Education, (Balls at the moment, but calling himself by another name), gives pause.

Deep within the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning (sic) [or do you mean sick? ed.] bill lies a clause that gives the secretary of state control of basic qualifications content. 'Guidance published alongside the bill says it could be used to specify "which authors' works needed to be studied for someone to gain a GCSE in English"... Ministers insist the power would be exercised only as a last resort, to preserve the teaching of Shakespeare, for example, if there was a suggestion it should be scrapped from the curriculum.' (Guardian)

The bill will establish too a Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency that will determine 'qualification design.' So it will cover the content of textbooks as well - hardly the same undertaking as insisting on the teaching of Shakespeare. Announcing the plan for the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency last year, Balls said it would protect the examination system from political interference, being independent of ministers rather than answerable to them. Being answerable to ministers tends to stop bucks. It is not specified to whom this new quango will be answerable - the Progressive Post-democracy New Labour Executive is a good candidate.


Elby the Beserk said...

There's a simple remedy for this. A bullet between the blockhead's eyes.

hatfield girl said...

I think they are too close together Elby. We must think of another remedy.

I am unconvinced of the worth of studying Shakespeare for GCSE; but then I am unconvinced of the capacity of teachers to undertake it. Some of the more hair-raising school day reports from the smaller HG recounted the study of Romeo and Juliet in year 11C.

Sackerson said...

Even average (but disciplined)kids aged 12 -13 can read and enjoy Shakespeare - I've done it. What you need to do is give them the gist of each scene/speech first, read it to them with expression and enthusiasm, and get them to do something creative with it afterwards. Maybe a homemade Pollock's toy theatre, maybe a drawing, maybe a letter from one character to another, maybe a diary entry, maybe a bit of dressing up and acting - with simplified/modernised speeches. But do let them experience the roll and sparkle of the Bard's phrases. Just don't do the dot-and-comma analysis.

hatfield girl said...

You're right, of course, S. And perhaps Shakespeare could be brought out of school and school days, and celebrated by all ages.

In Florence they have a Dante festival and passers-by are offered the chance to declaim parts of the Divine Comedy on appropriate street corners to the rest of us. It's always a great success with the most unexpected declamations, scorning the proffered texts, from all sorts of people. Of course the really famous bits are done by actors in the really famous parts of the city as well, in the evening. And there are open air lectures and discussions packed with participants with audiences roaring the great lines in unison where they occur in the argument.

These are the people who have done Dante at school (which is everybody since mass schooling began.) I couldn't do Dante (foreign accent), but I wouldn't mind having a go at:

'The barge she sat on like a burnished throne...'

Elby the Beserk said...

Shakespeare gently at GCSE, thoroughly at A level. I soaked it up at A level, food and drink it seemed. The shock was getting to Oxford to find don after don clearly bored stiff by their chosen subject, and regurgitating decade old lectures.

With honourable exceptions.

A good GCSE student would benefit from Shakespeare in smaller and appropriate doses. The beast with two backs, for example, would cause too much giggling; Prospero and Caliban however, are magical. I'm with Sackerson - the plays can be read in class, with people taking on different roles from day to day.

Better still, the plays can be put on the stage; my prep school did a rota of four plays, put on for the parents out of doors in the summer. The Tempest, Dream, Twelfth Night and one other which escapes me. I starred as a Strange Shape in The Tempest, perhaps my finest role. To date.

Cliche, yes, but all human life is there; and the language springs to life when spoken. Billy the Bard is part of the core of England for me, and were I doing Balls job, it would be mandatory all through the educational system. What hard science student could fail to learn from the man?

As for Balls; you may be right. In which case, an old-fashioned Monty Python 10 ton weight should be dropped on him from a great height. Whatever, he needs his plug pulling as he is a dangerous a bastard as we have seen in a long time.

Nomad said...

'The barge she sat on like a burnished throne...'

The imp on my shoulder gave me a poke and asked idly whether this was in any way connected with that famous (Goons?) poem:

The boy stood on the burning deck
His feet were covered in blisters
He split his trousers up he back
And had to borrow his sister's.

Ah, English culture....

Anonymous said...

"Ministers insist the power would be exercised only as a last resort"

How many times do they think we are going to fall for this?

(Captcha: hater)

it's either banned or compulsory said...

" Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency "
Why do those words fill me with dread and forboding ?