GCSE English Literature – Examining for 2021: Encore x 2

I’ve written on this site about next year’s revamped GCSE English Literature examination requirements here

both in terms of Ofqual’s decision to reduce workload by making elements optional, and the subsequent ‘outrage’ from teachers and others about making the study of poetry one of the optional components. Mine was, and still is, a pragmatic view, not about any ideologies regarding the study of poetry [which in ‘normal’ times I would always make a feature of study, and examined if terminal examinations have to exist…], but about the absolute pragmatism of the Ofqual decision and most teachers’ quite understandable pragmatic responses to this.

And that was the situation, despite the disagreements, and teachers will have planned over the summer accordingly.

However, AQA have suddenly intervened to unsettle even more that unsettled, if nonetheless, established reality of what would be the case for 2021. I have no idea if this was simply opportunistic – appearing to side with that outcry to keep poetry a compulsory element [myself and most others, I would suspect, having no idea it was possible to interpret Ofqual’s decision] and therefore making them an ‘attractive’ choice to those with that view – but it certainly isn’t pragmatic. Here is their offering, at the time of writing:

aqa 2021

This was immediately confusing for me, and didn’t – and still doesn’t – make sense. What this would effectively do is increase the commitment to teach and for students to respond to the number of elements for the 2021 – precisely what Ofqual’s initial decision sought to avoid because of Covid and GCSE students’ loss of time in schools.

I would consider myself one of the more consistently passionate English teachers when it comes to securing good sense and professional ideology regarding English teaching and the curriculum. In this case, however, I could understand entirely the pragmatic decisions made, by Ofqual [surprisingly] and teachers [as ever when dealing with imposed change]. I mention because there are others, who I respect hugely, also arguing for other alternatives where, for example, students respond to all four elements of the syllabus and their lowest mark in examination is disregarded. That sounds sensible, but it doesn’t address the fundamental problem of students having significantly less time [and it looks like there will be further impacts of Covid] with which to study.

Add to this the fact teachers will have planned their ‘reduced’ teaching, I cannot understand these latest developments at all. By all means, just scrap the exams entirely for 2021 and set up teacher assessment opportunities to award grades [though I accept the genuine problems here of standardising/moderating]. But that isn’t going to happen, therefore…

To add to this confusion, AQA are now ‘listening’ to teachers’ reactions to the decision they made after the first apparent ‘listening’.


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