03 SES 06 B, Curriculum Renewal (Languages): Policy and Practice
During periods of curriculum, educational or qualifications reform, debates typically centre on establishing the fundamental skills and competencies that students should possess in different subject domains. Currently, England is undergoing a period of reform in secondary education, where significant changes to course content are to be introduced (e.g. Smith, 2013). This includes the reform of General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSE), the primary set of qualifications taken by 16-year-olds in England. GCSEs currently serve a range of purposes. For example, they are required to enable students to make a successful transition into the next educational level (Mehta, Suto, & Brown, 2012; Suto, 2012), to provide sufficient skills for later employment, and to form part of the accountability system of secondary schools.
When subject content is under review it is necessary to establish a framework to guide the parameters for change. This is particularly important in the subject of English, which is a compulsory subject in the curriculum of the United Kingdom, and a qualification in English is typically a prerequisite to enter Further Education post-16. There has been an ongoing debate about how English can be defined (Ofqual, 2012; Raban-Bisby, Brooks, & Wolfendale, 1995). This debate has permeated both Anglophone and non-Anglophone countries including New Zealand (Limbrick & Aikman, 2005), Australia (Edwards & Potts, 2008) and Germany (Gnutzmann, 2005).
Definitions of English cover many areas from the ‘aesthetic’ to the ‘functional’ and views have been polarised about where the emphasis should lie (Laugharne, 2007). For example, in recent years, the term ‘literacy’ has been used as a label for a skills framework that divides English into a set of four core competencies: reading, writing, and speaking and listening. This functional definition is in response to the demand for courses in English to prepare students for communication in the workplace and beyond, and has been criticised for narrowing the scope of English qualifications (Edwards & Potts, 2008). More ‘academic’ definitions of English place greater emphasis on personal growth and creativity (Cox, 1991), although this perspective has been criticised for being too broad to be useful in developing qualifications that need to serve multiple purposes.
When redeveloping educational courses or the curriculum, it is important to consider the views of multiple stakeholders, as they can play an essential role in establishing the educational framework from which the course is built. It is currently unclear what models of English as a subject are maintained by different stakeholders, and how these perspectives project onto their views on what content and skills should be taught to 16-year-old students. The present study aimed to resolve this important issue by establishing areas of consensus and contention in stakeholders’ discourse regarding English.
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