Back Thursday 4 Feb 2021 1:18 pm

Some welcome U-turns and the need for more - especially about talk

Is English teaching on the brink of a brave new dawn? EMC’s director has noticed some encouraging volte-faces and hopes that more are in the offing.
main image for blog post 'Some welcome U-turns and the need for more - especially about talk'

There have been some interesting and welcome U-turns recently from prominent educational voices writing about English teaching. When the current KS3 curriculum was introduced, for example, one blogger put out a highly influential curriculum model based on the principles of E.D. Hirsch. It took students through a chronological overview of English Literature, focusing on a range of canonical texts much more suited to older students. He has quietly renounced it and now promotes the importance of challenging but age-appropriate texts. Another blogger-cum-consultant is about to publish his latest book, which, he openly admits, marks a significant shift away from his previous best-seller about teaching a perfect Ofsted English lesson. And large publishers, awarding bodies and MATs are rushing to diversify publishing lists and curricula that were shamelessly packed with dead white males in their original incarnations only a year or two ago.

Sadly, the U-turns have come after much damage has already been done. And all in the name of evidence-based practice. Teachers have known what matters all along, but it’s hard for everyone to hold fast to principles in an age of high-stakes testing and SLT micro-management.

These U-turns only go so far, particularly in an age when policy is so set against what really matters in English teaching. For some time now at the English and Media Centre we’ve been trying to point out some of the areas of concern. For example, we’ve blogged about the pedagogical flimsiness of high-profile approaches to the teaching of vocabulary, grammar, terminologycultural capital and context, that are still rarely challenged by those with the ear of government. There’s still a curious opposition to ‘engagement’ from several influential quarters. And official recognition of the importance of genuine language study in the 11-16 curriculum is all but absent. It’s to our deep regret that Media now rarely gets a mention in discussions about the English curriculum.

We’ve also blogged about and run some small-scale research into another key area of English in need of a long overdue U-turn: talk. Some brilliant people and organisations have shouted long and hard about its importance, and continue to do so, but they are still in the minority in terms of influencing policy.

At the English and Media Centre we’re lucky to have one of those brilliant people. Barbara Bleiman has led the calls to value what matters in English and to resist bending it to the latest educational fads. Her book, What Matters in English Teaching, has been hugely influential. It draws on long-established traditions of English teaching and shows how they retain relevance in today’s classrooms.

Barbara has always placed talk at the heart of her work. That’s why we’re so excited about the fourth in her series of What Matters in English Teaching online CPD - What Matters in English Teaching: Talk in the Classroom. This session, on Wednesday 10th February, is for teachers wanting to think about the underlying issues and principles relating to talk in the English, as well as considering practical implications for how we organise classrooms and the curriculum offer.

Bookings close at 8am on Monday 8th February, so you’ll need to hurry to book a place.


Though I am far removed from UK teaching and not personally affected by the government's choices any longer, I really felt what Barbara's blog set out to do and think it should be something all teachers of reasonable years experience should think about too, whatever context they teach in.

I also cannot accept that the government's decisions are simply incompetence; it is ideological and designed to stamp out the creativity and natural talent that falls randomly across children and therefore make it that those are not the things the subject celebrates. Because what the Tories hate is the common purpose, sustaining culture, and by creating a dry and rigid curriculum they ensure this generation doesn't have the opportunity to push new ideas. Thanks to EMC and Barbara especially for being a bulwark against this ideological destruction of the subject.
By Faye Griffiths on 04th Feb 2021

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