Putting great literature at the heart of education

There has been criticism that studying works of Welsh and English literature at GCSE is not given the same priority as for studying language.

Authors, poets and actors have joined teachers and other education experts in being vocal in their views that not making literature a core subject for schools to teach means that some learners don’t study the subject through to 16. 

Discussing great works of literature in the classroom with their teachers helps open up new ways of thinking and a greater appreciation of the inventiveness of language for learners, they argue. 

We’re not only talking about studying literature in books. There is a wonderful opportunity to exploit the vast and growing range of multimedia tools at our disposal to ignite learners’ enthusiasm for literature. 

We’ve listened to all these views, and many others, as we build a series of proposals for qualifications to meet the needs of the Welsh Government’s new curriculum for Wales. And we agree. 

We’ve noted that in some schools, GCSE literature is now offered only as an optional subject. 

Given the focus on preparing for qualifications in years 10 and 11, it appears some learners are not studying literature beyond the age of 14.  

In 2018, for example, there were 14% fewer entries for GCSE English Literature than GCSE English Language and 32% fewer entries for GCSE Welsh Literature than GCSE Welsh Language. 

As a result, we feel that many learners are missing out on the chance to study great literature in several different formats, including written texts and through film and television drama in both English and Welsh. That is a great pity. 

It’s why we’re proposing a shake-up of how Welsh and English are taught up to 16 in our consultation, Qualified for the future. 

In our proposals and work with experts we want to find out if creating combined language and literature GCSEs will help to secure equity of provision for learners within and across schools. We believe these new GSEs will offer greater flexibility for learners to have more choice about which other qualifications they want to study 

Although there is undeniable support for literature to be a core subject for schools through to GCSE level in Wales, we want to consider whether it is possible - or indeed desirable - to combine the study of language and literature. 

We’ve studied this and found that it is a common approach in other countries - for example in New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and New South Wales in Australia - to combine language and literature in qualifications taken at 16 and post-16 into single qualifications. By doing so it has been found that it strengthens their reading ability, leading to these countries returning strong performances in PISA international reading assessments compared with learners in Wales. 

PISA is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) programme for International Student Assessment. PISA measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges 

We want to hear what teachers and the public think of these proposals, which is why we’re asking for everyone to have your say through our Qualified for the future consultation. 

The Qualified for the future consultation is open until 9 April and includes proposals for GCSEs in maths, humanities, expressive arts, science and technology and health and wellbeing as well as language, literature and communications. The consultation document and details of how to respond can be found on the Qualifications Wales website - Qualifications Wales / Qualified for the future – have your say 

By Emyr George, Director of Qualifications Policy and Reform