So Many Words – Rupert Loydell (Guest Post)

There are just so many words that fit on a line
– Peter Dent, ‘Their Forecast Not My Forecast’

I like the ending and then I don’t.
A Mexican ghost town crowds in,
detectives in London are on the case,
trying to pin the moments down,
put them into the correct order
so they can solve the problem and
go home. I am scared of the future
and not very keen on the past:
too many variables and unknowns,
so many ways to join the dots
but none of them make sense.

This new music tries to evoke
a past that never existed,
where everything stood still
and we were in control, able to
relax and confide in one another
face to face. Masks are mandatory,
and if we speak at all it is by video
or phone. The museums are empty,
in pubs we sit apart or in the garden;
everyone sleeps in as late as possible
and fails to submit on time.

Deadlines come and go, guitars
shred the minutes and subside.
In a dream I visited all the places
I never saw, probably never will.
A man with a flashlight illuminates
the rules and tells us what to do.
When we were fewer and healthier
there was less to do and the list
of things pending was shorter,
the agenda quickly dealt with
before coffee and cakes arrived.

It is about to end then it doesn’t.
Even the small bright lights
have gone out, we are in the dark
and alone, afraid of the now.
I jump before I think, weep later
as it all sinks in. It’s our world
and look what we have done.
I am lost in the humming air,
the rain is endless, the last
of my dismantled boat has gone,
collected by a man from Kent.

© Rupert M Loydell

Blues Sunrise

There are two
sunrises and three suns
this morning,

watching one
over a field of pumpkins
not mine

so broadly orange,
this one here rising to the
right, a bifurcation

of orb and
the glass reflecting, an
open chord

and bottleneck
glide from Fred McDowell

Reimagining the Reimagining of GCSE

I find the following annoying as well as sad:

reimagine gcse

At these Covid times and the GCSE debacle of this year [both connected, but the latter’s nonsense caused by algorithmic software and political ineptitude] the last thing we need is a further dreadful encroachment into the year 9 English curriculum.

English teachers with any subject content sensibilities have been aware and critical of this increasing dismantling of, for example, giving time to creativity and exploration at Key Stage 3 [with the driven and obsessional GCSE demands], so touting new ways to further this deforestation is unhelpful and wrong.

And as for ‘knowledge-rich’ – well, that says it all: tapped into the new Hirschian dogma and this government’s [a la The Gibb] philistines’ adoration of it. We should be looking to radically change GCSEs, probably by finishing with them and looking at teacher-led assessment opportunities at age 18. There is plenty of historical insight into this, much surprisingly old as it was always rejected at the time, but still full of intelligent relevance.

Leaving Oakland (but not Jimi) Behind

jimi - Copy

On this day 50 years ago I was marooned in the small town of Oakland Iowa with which I had no connection whatsoever, in limbo and nearly in transit out of there back to England. It was also the day Jimi Hendrix died.

I remember the day well because when I heard the news I went down to my basement room and cried on the bed there. Being in this small town where I didn’t know anyone and obviously without the friends I’d recently left in England – those who shared my musical tastes which included a love of Hendrix – that extra layer of genuine sadness added to my deep sense of isolation and loneliness. I was 16 years old.

I can’t remember precisely, but I might have actually just returned to Oakland, having left to fly back to England, but when I had got to Omaha and the airport – the town where I had been born and just over 30 miles away, so a geographical ‘connection’ – I wasn’t allowed to catch the plane because my father had thought it was OK for me on my own to fly on a family passport, and it wasn’t. My aunt, who lived in Omaha had come out to drive me to the airport, then had to return me back to that temporary but now extended-stay home. We weren’t pleased. I can’t remember how long it took to get my individual passport, but I do think I was there waiting for it when Jimi died.

I didn’t have any of my Hendrix albums with me and can’t recall the radio playing his songs. Being desperate and self-absorbed about wanting to flee, I wasn’t very involved with the family so I’m not sure I would have watched any TV.

There is more to this ‘story’ – why I’d been in England, why I’d returned to the States, and why I was anxious to return to the UK – but it is the memory of Hendrix’s passing that reminded me today of that miserable time.

‘If 6 Was 9’ Set for GCSE English Literature 2021

Sorting out the UK exam board offerings for GCSE English Literature 2021 is a bit like working out the variables and logic of covid restrictions across the UK, for example in England you can have just 6 people in a garden but you can have 6 people in a pub x another 6 people x another 6 people x another 6 people to as many 6 people units can be fitted in to be ‘covid secure’. In Wales you can have 30 people in a garden. I think.

And I can’t actually find all of the UK exam board offerings based on the Ofqual decision to reduce the number of optional elements required for study and response at GCSE English Literature in 2021. But here are two of them [in addition to AQA posted earlier],


OCR 2021

This one is simple. Unadventurous and in the Cuprinol Mode of Delivery: this is what was said / this is what it is.

Pearson Edexcel

edexcel 2021

I hadn’t realised, then I found out, then I forgot, so my apologies, that they too had gone down the maverick route, though this less maverick than the not-quite maverick route of AQA, but I guess it’s AQA I need to apologise to/for as they aren’t alone in being whatever they are. I don’t know why Edexcel has gone for making post-1914 Literature another compulsory element. Unlike Poetry, there wasn’t a post-1914 writers of literature outcry for this to be retained as compulsory, though the insider dealing must be that as this is predominantly An Inspector Calls it was in many ways a no-brainer. But by adding a compulsory element, Edexcel are also reducing the options available to teachers. And if a school has already taught the 19th century Novel and Poetry, this compulsion is a disadvantage.

Anyway, back to the Covid no. 6 analogy, I do wonder if Jimi Hendrix’s If 6 Was 9 will be making a comeback to top the charts [if there is A Charts these days]? You’d think it would be a shoehorn in. Perhaps the song’s lyrics could be set as AQA’s unseen poetry element with a question about how the apparent indifference stated in the lyrics links to the uncertainties we face today…

Now if 6 turned out to be 9,
I don’t mind, I don’t mind

GCSE English Literature – Examining for 2021: Encore x 4

This is the latest latest, and it revolves around AQA. This is now an illustrative explanation of what they are offering, as I wrote about last night,

aqa 2021 latest latest

It puts AQA out there as the maverick, though I’m not convinced this is attractively so. I still have to research – if bothered – but I think they are the only English exam board making an extra compulsory element [in addition to Shakespeare].

As I have written previously, in other times, Poetry should be a core and students by and large engage and respond extremely well, and in the most pertinent case to this thread, they do well in the unseen element of Poetry study and response. However, as AQA’s initial ‘maverick’ response was to make the Poetry Anthology study compulsory – this to answer the challenge made by a number at the time to Ofqual’s ‘options’ decision which would have allowed the dropping of Poetry – I don’t see how the unseen poetry substitute for this addresses/answers that challenge.

Interestingly, early critics of AQA’s first change [now changed] referred to those mounting the challenge I have mentioned as ‘celebrity poets’! I had my reservations about the bandwagon of this, but the poets who mostly articulated that challenge do not deserve that denigration. Mostly. And that’s another argument/opinion.

Anyway, teaching and preparing for AQA’s ‘extra’ compulsory element does in the first instance break the whole pragmatic premise of Ofqual’s initial decision. Teaching to this will require a focus quite different to reading and exploring poetry in the Anthology. And surely, it will be ‘teaching to this’ precisely because it increases the amount that has to be taught in reduced time which was the whole point of the pragmatic decision from Ofqual [I genuinely find it uncomfortable to seem to support them, so I’m not, just acknowledging].

Unseen poems have often been very good and engaging and eliciting fine responses. But precisely because they are unseen they are selected for this: the timing and so on. Without explaining this further, I hardly see this satisfying/accommodating the arguments that had been made about keeping Poetry Anthology study compulsory.

So it would seem to be a decision made to accommodate what AQA explained [and I referenced in my previous about this] which is the allocation of marks. All I wonder is how if other exam boards are able to work across three elements [including Shakespeare as compulsory] I don’t understand why AQA can’t do some mathematical jiggery-pokery to achieve the same. Unless they want to be ‘different’.

Finally, as AQA are the largest exam board for this subject, will AQA schools who dislike this version be able to change their exam board? That would seem to be a whole other pragmatic decision that wouldn’t particularly help teachers and schools that already have to bear the burden of extra and uncertain work in these existential times.

GCSE English Literature – Examining for 2021: Encore x 3

The latest provisional latest is courtesy of AQA and it is as clear as any oxymoron would be:

aqa 2021 latest

Having jumped on the compulsory poetry bandwagon – you know, the one with the square wheels – they immediately had to reconsider as it fell into a ditch full of murky decision-making.

OK, I’m stopping with the figurative tangent. This is yet another variation on what had been a pragmatic decision from Ofqual that was probably the clearest decision they ever made as Ofqual. So the poetry anthology study is now an option, though unseen poetry is tagged onto Shakespeare as the compulsory element. I’ve lost track with how this fits in with the other big players so will just leave it at that. The argument presented is that poetry has a vital percentage element to covering the course, but I’m wondering how, in a pragmatic move to lessen the amount of text/s that need to be studied [quite simply because of time], the percentage allocations themselves could not be altered for this one year?