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Pupils can now gain top GCSEs in English without reading a whole book


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Pupils can now gain top GCSEs in English without reading a whole book


by SARAH HARRIS Last updated at 16:31pm on 13th October 2006 commentIconSm.gif




Pupils can achieve A*s in English literature GCSEs and top marks in national curriculum tests without actually reading a whole book, a new report has revealed.

They can get through secondary school without reading a book completely as they are simply fed a diet of extracts.

This is because many teachers, who are short of time and under pressure to improve results, are abandoning whole novels and plays in favour of more manageable bite-size sections.

But literacy experts claim that the growing trend is resulting in children being turned off books completely.

The report comes from Anthony Farrell, head of English at St Ives School, Cornwall, and Professor David Jesson, of York University.

It criticises the government's national literacy strategy in primary schools, claiming it is over-prescriptive.

There is a 'reliance on writing models and writing frames' and problems continue at secondary level where pupils are 'over-taught' and 'over-coached' for GCSE English literature courses.

The report, revealed in the Times Educational Supplement, says: 'Many students have a very curious experience of reading in English.

'Because texts have been reduced to fragmented extracts used for illustrative purposes, it is possible that students could arrive at Year Ten (age 14) without having read a complete novel.

'The situation is no better at Key Stage Four (ages 14 to 16). It is quite possible for a student to achieve an A* grade in English Literature without having read a complete novel or play.

'Indeed the GCSE syllabuses seem almost to collude in encouraging this fragmentary study of a text.'

In next year's English tests for 14-year-olds, the only literature test is two or three extracts from Much Ado About Nothing, from acts one and two.

And the most popular English literature GCSE assigns only 10 per cent to a coursework assignment based on a novel and 35 per cent to an exam question on a novel or a collection of short stories.

Teachers say it is possible to do well in the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance qualification by reading only the short stories and the extracts.

Mr Farrell claimed that AQA encouraged this approach in advice to schools. He insisted that teachers are not to blame as they are under pressure from the 'paranoid' need to raise results.

Anne Barnes, education officer of the National Literacy Association, agreed that the national literacy and Key Stage Three strategies encourage the view that comprehension skills are more important than reading for pleasure.

This is reinforced by exam syllabuses and the need to get good results, leading to children being turned off books.

She told the TES: 'It's the worst thing that's happened in English in the past ten years. Children are being denied the pleasures of reading.

'One of the great pleasures of teaching is when you have a whole class enjoying a novel at once.

It's not happening now, even in primary schools.

'You never get the whole room reaching a cliffhanger, desperate to find out what's happening next. There's no time for that.'

John Gallagher, head of English at Stratford-upon-Avon girls' grammar school, said many schools only taught extracts.

He said: 'I'm sure some classes, in some schools, think that Romeo and Juliet ends happily ever after.'

An AQA spokeswoman said its syllabus stated that the prose coursework should be based on a 'substantive' text.

Teachers could concentrate on specific chapters of a novel, but pupils had to relate them to the work as a whole.

Meanwhile a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority report last year revealed that pupils can no longer cope with reading whole books because they are given only short extracts to read in lessons.

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