Most of what follows here is based on a press release sent out last Friday. It gives an outline of my opinions on how classic literature is taught (or not taught) in English schools.
Because I am posting it, it seems inappropriate that it should be in the third person, so I have tweaked it a little.
Thanks for the emails so far received, incidentally (by way of firstname.lastname@example.org) which are all more or less in tune, which is heartening and disappointing at the same time, because I was hoping to engage in a little back-and-forth.
For the benefit of a couple of American correspondents, I must state that I know precious little about the curriculum in the high schools there, so I’ll leave it up to the locals to find similarities and differences and to pass judgement.
Please note the sentence - This is often in spite of the best efforts of teachers. I happen to know some excellent ones, who find ways round officially prescribed practices and who plant seeds.
I am aware that in the last couple of years, a number of well-informed teachers and advisers have deplored the lack of real “opportunities for extended reading” in the curriculum, so there are moves to correct imbalances, but this usually involves currently-practising authors like David Almond, whose brilliant novel Clay features strongly in the Carnegie Shadowing Project .
This is a nationwide reading challenge where students read five books that have been on the shortlist for the Carnegie medal. The official website is at www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk
So, I think that:
Young people are given insufficient time in the classroom for in-depth study of texts. This is often in spite of the best efforts of teachers.
Many more people are drawn towards the Brontës by forces outside schools, for example by new adaptations of novels like Jane Eyre by the BBC.
A series of Government initiatives in schools - with the admirable objective of improving standards of literacy - has led to a situation in which love of reading and literature generally is being rather neglected in favour of a rigid 'framework' approach.
For at least the last decade the definition of English as a subject has been increasingly prescribed. The emphasis on capital L Literacy is becoming a significant encroachment on English as a creative and humanistic domain, because it does not appear to give more than a token acknowledgement for the value of literature.
I believe in the sharing of 'real' texts, whether described as classic or popular. This enables personal growth and the study of literature to come together. This sharing - through reading, creative writing and improvised drama - was the feature of the Brontë children's early educational experiences which led to the great works which followed later.
The forces which drove them in a nineteenth century parsonage are universal, and can be harnessed in many other environments including that of a twenty-first century classroom.
Currently-prescribed practices in the official literacy strategy require pupils to focus on fragments of text, seldom on whole texts which might elicit a 'whole' response. This discourages the formation of a profound personal relationship with a work of literature.
The best teaching is based on the stimulation of the imagination, of course, and teachers can get plenty of advice on that from the Parsonage, which is rapidly developing into a regional centre for the Arts.
Chairman of Council