The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0447 Monday, 26 February 2001
Date: Friday, 23 Feb 2001 22:24:42 +0000
Subject: Bard Bade Goodbye
Comment: SHK 12.0428 Bard Bade Goodbye
As usual, the press have only partially grasped the story.
At 16+, students who sit GCSE exams have not had to write about
Shakespeare IN FORMAL WRITTEN EXAMS for four years. BUT all students in
the nation HAVE to study Shakespeare for COURSEWORK. The general effect
has been sometimes very radical, exciting and innovative approaches,
different plays than the usual suspects, have come into kids' lives, and
the accent on seeing live performance has been hugely increased.
The 'literary canon' has been re-defined - whatever that means! And
there ARE shifts in emphasis in the way the syllabuses are to be set
up. What the syllabuses finally comprise is, I suspect, still up for
grabs. there has been for some years, shall we call it? -tension
between exam boards, the government, and the teachers.
What is sinister is that increasing numbers of decisions about what is
taught in schools is indeed being taken by unaccountable faceless
suits. No-one I know has actually met many / any of these bureaucrats,
but streams of glossy stuff is being produced by them. The exam boards
are pretty unhappy about what the government body is perpetrating and
then requiring them to implement, and there is some evidence emerging -
the article in the recent posting is such - that the tensions are
becoming public. Further, the fact that new, already announced / bruited
syllabuses have now been delayed quite substantially is further evidence
that all is not settled. Many of the syllabuses are already prefaced by
'through gritted teeth' style preambles, placing the 'blame' or
responsibility for some of the constraints on government interference or
similar hints and nods rather than the exam boards.
The problem always is that almost no civil servant would dream of
interfering in Maths or Physics syllabuses, because most functionaries
are educated in the Liberal Arts and know next to nothing, but give them
an English Literature or History syllabus to fiddle with, and their
collective eye - most being one-eyed, lights up, and the 'when I was at
school' type nostalgia takes over. On the other hand, there are powerful
lobby groups with very different agendas who have finally managed to be
taken very seriously, such that the new syllabuses are the result of
some unseemly ping-pong, in which, I fear, the unsavoury smell of
horse-trading is in the air. As usual, the front-line teachers are the
last to be consulted.
In fine, Shakespeare is extremely likely to be re-scheduled somewhere
else, BUT I would take money on the expectation that pretty well 90% of
the nation's English Literature teachers will have him on their lists by
hook or by crook!