Why it’s just not as simple as dropping a text.

Following on from the Ofqual announcement to hand over ownership to centres to make choices, there is a temptation to wrangle with which component of the literature certification centres should opt to drop. For many, this decision will be driven by the time allocation lost- and arguably, rightly so- because after all, the rationale for Ofqual making the announcement is primarily to alleviate pressure on schools to make up for lost time. You know my thoughts on the prospect of a ‘recovery curriculum’- I blogged about it here– and therefore, there was no lost to gain. You cannot gain lost time; children are not behind; we cannot speak of some form of catch up. To do so is detrimental to not only a student’s experience of our subjects, but to their experience of what it means to live through a lockdown during a pandemic.

Therefore, this announcement should bring some relief. It places as much autonomy at local level as we might hope for, so that schools might make decisions that are appropriate for their curriculum plans- not a catch up, but the business as usual plans that they laboured over before March of this year with such deliberation and care.

So, why is it so hard? Perhaps, because we have associated the outline of what will be assessed with what will be taught or learned. However it is important to remember that the loss of a text does not have the subsequently lead to the loss of a subject. So much of what we teach is never actualised within an exam paper, or demonstrated by students. What they remember transcends an exam hall and our own recollections of our subject are testament to that. I remember a close reading of the moment that Tess is violated and having a discussion that spanned the entire hour from a lecture where my incredibly feminist A level teacher taught us not just the way in which language can say, but what can remain unsaid through the careful plotting of words. It remains with me every single time I read a moment within a narrative where the writer strips to the skeleton to highlight deep injustice or lacking humanity. Equally, my study of King Lear reverberates as I explore the withdrawal of power, or the painful role of the reader as spectator once the assertion of a character fades and our catharsis weighs heavy in our helplessness. I don’t remember the question on the paper. I don’t remember what the mark was.

Understandably so, we are saddened on behalf of students who may not experience not just the texts we have to set aside, but the cohesion that exists between one and the next. To chip away at literature is to remove a remenant of its tapestry ( see Claire Hill’s blog here for a more complete, pre-COVID exploration of the metaphor) and it is this that we mourn. This recognition and recurrence of concept from one moment to the next is what breathes life into literature: we tread with trepidation through key stage three, touching upon the segregation of a Dickensian London so that we recognise Blake’s journey as he shares his despair at eternal entrapment of poverty. We explore Achilles’ death at the hands of Troy so that we can grasp how the concept of what it means to be a hero is complex and infested with an undercurrent of hypocrisy because after all, to be a hero does not present as eradicated of flaw as we learn of Macbeth. It is because our curriculum maps are more than slotting in and out a text or two that whilst is the best bet, it doesn’t make it any easier for us to swallow. What I will say, is that for many, literature will not end at an exam: for this to be an assurance, it really does surmount to what we teach.

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