A-level English? Try Richard and Judy

Katie Spenceley 9 February 2008

Katie Spenceley

Deputy News Editor

Examination boards are tearing up the pages of academic tradition by encouraging English Literature students to choose their examination texts from the Richard and Judy book club.

The Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations Board (OCR) has decided that students should have a greater choice in the literature they study.

They have also suggested the previous emphasis placed on traditional literature should be scrapped in favour of more popular work.

Among the potential expulsions from the new English syllabus are T.S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad and E.M. Forster.

Richard and Judy on the other hand have been accredited with discovering such modern classics as William Boyd’s Restless, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Sharon Osbourne’s autobiography.

The OCR’s director of qualifications, Clara Kenyon, suggested that schools and students would benefit by educating themselves in the popular novels set out by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, on their Channel 4 chat show.

Kenyon said: “The public has a real enthusiasm for literature, as shown by the popularity of initiatives such as Richard and Judy’s book club which have been hugely successful.

“What they have achieved is to break down the perception that literature is dull or boring.”

The proposed examinations would still include study of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Chaucer – as well as a module in post-1900 literature, in which students could choose to study such disciplines as satire and travel writing.

Students would also be able to pick three texts, one of which must have been published since 1990.

But not everyone is convinced that this post-modern approach amounts to a welcome change.

Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: “That’s just what I need. Richard Madeley telling me what to teach.”

However, McNeilly did not necessarily think that great flexibility in the English syllabus would harm education.

“Most teachers do the job because they love their subject and good English teachers will provide their students with a hearty choice of books,” he concluded.