Supporting English-related teaching and learning at all levels

Notes on the Common English Forum (CEF) Autumn meeting – Steve Willshaw

The Common English Forum is a meeting of representatives of all the major organisations linked with the teaching of English in schools and universities, covering English Literature, English Language and Creative Writing.  It meets twice a year to discuss matters that impact on all sectors.

One topic that had been discussed at previous meetings was the fact that English Language was not included in the Russell Group of universities list of “facilitating subjects”. Following the last meeting a sub-group of the CEF met with Russell Group representatives to make the case for the inclusion of English Language. Following this meeting the list of “facilitating subjects” was removed from the Russell Group website. Clearly this is not necessarily as a direct result of the meeting and the list will still be out there in many schools and on other websites so further efforts to lobby on behalf of the subject will be needed.

The October meeting spent a lot of time discussing the decline in the number of students entering English A levels. It was pointed out that this decline has been reversed in some other subjects which would appear to have a lot in common with English, such as history, whilst the decline in English continues. A range of different explanations for this were put forward: the impact of the new GCSE; the impact of phonics teaching in primary schools; teaching to the test in KS4 which makes English lessons unimaginative; the unreliability of marking in English; the misconception that employers don’t value English qualifications; the shortage of well-qualified English teachers and the decline in extra-curricular activities that enliven the English curriculum.

This discussion was followed by brief reports from each of the organisations represented on the efforts being made to address the recruitment crisis. The Committee for Linguistics in education reported that it has pulled together a lot of resources that may be of use to teachers – this can be accessed at The English Association highlighted the English: Shared Futures conference that aims to celebrate the discipline’s intellectual strength, diversity and creativity and explore its futures in the nations of the UK and across the world. It also pointed out its work with The Full English, the Poetry Society and the Poetry Archive to fund and support Poetry by Heart, the national poetry recitation competition.

Other organisations reported on work they are doing to demonstrate the wide-ranging applicability of the skills covered within English. NATE talked about the work they are doing to address the mis-conception that employers don’t value English. UKLA spoke about the work they are doing to encourage members to develop “rich curricula” and their continued work with Teresa Cremin on reading for pleasure pedagogy. The Institute of English Studies (IES) spoke about the work it is doing along with the Royal Historical Society, the British Sociological Association and the Royal Geographical Society to put together a collective statement about the value of the humanities. The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education talked about the work it is doing to broaden the conception of the skills and knowledge required to be an effective English teacher, beyond phonics, grammar, vocabulary and spelling. The English and Media centre highlighted the work it is doing to collect narratives from English graduates and publicise them through its site  and its popular “Why Study English” and “18 reasons to study English” posters.

There was a discussion item on English at KS3 with inputs from NATE and EMC about the development work they are currently involved in in this area. This led into a discussion of the Ark Mastery English Curriculum with its focus on a knowledge-rich curriculum, grammar, vocabulary and “assessing for mastery”. There was a general feeling that this model does not represent English teaching as members of the CEF understand it and plans were made for the IES and University English to put together a strategic response to this initiative.

The meeting agreed that when representatives of the CEF meet with the DfE in November they would discuss the decline in A level English recruitment, how to tackle misconceptions about employability and what plans there might be to promote specific schemes of work at KS3.

It was agreed that the spring 2020 CEF meeting would focus on the ASCL “Forgotten Third” campaign, looking into provision for those students who do not achieve a level 4 in GCSE English.