In case you didn’t know, Toby Young has set up a school. You’d think, then, that he’d have a good idea of how GCSE syllabuses work. But his latest broadside against the ‘dumbing down’ of secondary education suggests not.
‘It’s a truth generally acknowledged in the state education sector that children aged 16 and under cannot cope with the novels of Charles Dickens,’ despairs Young on the Spectator site today. He then goes on to explain – quite correctly in my view – why children are perfectly able to cope with Dickens.
Then it all gets a bit bizarre. Young claims – having been tipped off by an ‘education campaigner’ called Joseph Reynolds – that ‘instead of Dickens’ children following Edexcel’s syllabus study the ITV1 homepage of Britain’s Got Talent and the front cover of Heat magazine.
Young – and Tim Walker, who dutifully recycles the story for The Telegraph – seems to be under the impression that these are alternatives to Oliver Twist and Great Expectations (to use his own examples).
But the syllabus that Young refers to is very obviously that of Edexcel’s English Language GCSE, which is concerned with critically analysing the written and spoken language as it is used today – in advertising and magazines, for example.
English Literature, on the other hand, develops skills in responding to poetry, fiction and drama.
And what’s on Edexcel’s English Literature syllabus? Well, in addition to a compulsory Shakespeare play, there’s a choice of great literary works including Animal Farm, Pride and Prejudice and … Great Expectations.