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A level Lit

(171 Posts)
Piggywaspushed Mon 13-Nov-17 18:49:45

Anyone got any ideas or thoughts why the decline in popularity of Lit? Is it just the cult of STEM? (no offence STEM ists)

At my school, the numbers for next year have twice as many doing economics as A level lit, 3 times as many doing maths and 3 times as many doing physics and psychology...

Politics has fallen off, too, but history remains very popular.

Large comp - high achieving - lots of A level choice. Usual issues of MFL being dead on its feet.

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noblegiraffe Mon 13-Nov-17 19:22:58

Is Lit definitely declining? Figures I saw for our area had maths leaping in front of English in popularity ranking over the last few years, but actually English take-up stayed the same in raw figures, it was just that math take-up increased massively.

That was before the new GCSE though which I heard was putting people off A-level, both English and Maths.

Piggywaspushed Mon 13-Nov-17 19:27:44

Doesn't seem to have put students off maths at my gaffe.

Nationally, I think you are right that maths has become more popular, rather than Lit declining,. But at my place there is definitely a steady decline in the academic Arts , for want of a better term. We have long had a gender bias issue and that is becoming worse too. I read an article recently on School Week raising an interesting point : why do we care so much when girls don't do STEM but don't have mirroring concern about boys not taking English? I am sure there are lots of good ripostes (for example, most published authors are still male, so it hardly has an impact )

But then I read all your stuff about how hard maths is and how well you need to have done at GCSE to manage and wonder how ill advised some of the choices are.

Sad to say, I just think many children don't read any more.

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Piggywaspushed Mon 13-Nov-17 19:28:10

ps as ever, I knew you'd be first wink

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noblegiraffe Mon 13-Nov-17 22:59:55

why do we care so much when girls don't do STEM but don't have mirroring concern about boys not taking English?

Do you want the essay about this? I could totally write an essay grin

I think in terms of the increase in kids taking maths there has been a big push on engineering/STEM careers because that's where the well-paid careers and demand are in this country. There's also been a lot of discussion about tuition fees which has put a monetary value on education and there has been a lot of focus about 'getting your money's worth' from university given the now extortionate cost. I've seen quite a few academic mathsy kids eschew university altogether for apprenticeships because of the money factor, so I also imagine that filters to A-level choices - is there going to be a career for me at the end of this course? Education is becoming more mercenary, and English lit doesn't really have that as a sales pitch.

Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 06:55:25

Superficially true but actually English has high employability (admittedly not into necessarily elite pay jobs) and is a gold standard A Level. A study was done once tracking Lit A Level forwards to high pay but I imagine it's a little outdated.

I wish people would pursue what they love not what they need. Hey ho.

I think the pressure of the new English GCSE may also be revealing itself.

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KeiraTwiceKnightley Tue 14-Nov-17 07:06:15

As an eng lit teacher in a large comp, I think it's mostly the new GCSE. It's so DULL. Actually, it's the Language aspect of the GCSE that is boring, Lit is much the same in many ways with perhaps a bit more rite-learning. But Y11 kids don't always have the ability to separate the two and so conflate them as "English is boring and it's all about analysing language and structure. I don't want two more years of that at a level". I think it's been particularly acute this year as English was the only Arts subject in the new spec. Be interesting to see if the balance gets redressed once History/geog etc are also more

Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 07:21:49

yes I agree. I would say my department is a bit guilty of talking up the challenge of the new GCSE to each other, students, fellow teachers, parents and it all trickles down. The Lit GCSE has lost its ' big sell ' text too. Whatever the issues with Of Mice and Men not really being a rigorous prep for A Level the students loved it. careering through Shakespeare and Victorian lit in half term blocks is nobody's idea of fun.

It's a shame as the new A Level is actually pretty accessible.

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Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 07:23:46

disclaimer : I love Shakespeare .

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noblegiraffe Tue 14-Nov-17 07:47:49

English has high employability

Do you communicate this to the kids? What is your A-level recruitment strategy? I've got top set Y10 this year and I've already been telling them that I'll be expecting them to do A-level, saying stuff like 'oh yes, this topic comes up at A-level too' and come Y11 we may even start doing some A-level questions so they can see it's not that scary^. Because we set, I've got a captive audience. They'll also get the economic benefits drummed into them, by me and probably their parents too.

noblegiraffe Tue 14-Nov-17 07:50:10

I hated Of Mice and Men. And we did War Poetry and All Quiet on the Western Front. Not the most inspiring. I know that there's loads of discussion about 'boy-friendly' texts, but if your main A-level candidates are girls, is this a good tactic?

Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 08:12:51

We don't do Of Mice and Men any more ...

The war poetry is part of a cluster. I did argue for doing the other cluster but got shouted down.

I am not in charge of A Level Lit so am not sure what recruitment strategies there are. I also haven't taught a top set for six years...

The issue is even the girls don't seem to be going for it in droves!

It definitely needs addressing but, since we are in staffing crisis no one in top echelons will care much.

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noblegiraffe Tue 14-Nov-17 08:25:32

What has replaced OMAM? Hopefully not another book where the female character isn’t even named and gets murdered!

Your staffing crisis won’t be helping recruitment if you’ve lost inspiring teachers and gained whoever can be roped in...

Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 08:36:03

The great thing about OMAM was discussing the nameless female character. it's a more feminist book that you give it credit for.

Literature is full of women as victims as is the media... frustrating but true.

Gove decreed there should be no American Literature at all, so now we do Jekyll and Hyde or Great Expectations (!) or A Christmas Carol, loads of poetry, Shakespeare and I do Animal farm, but most do An Inspector Calls (suicidal female, lascivious men and harridan matriarchs...)

The irony is I wouldn't describe most of our STEM or history teachers as inspiring.

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Lancelottie Tue 14-Nov-17 08:39:33

DD would, I'd have thought, be a natural candidate for A-level English Lit, but the GCSE has pretty much killed any joy she once took in it (typical MN reading-under-the-covers child when little, knew her semantic fields from her pathetic fallacies at 11 and had to explain both to her parents ...)

I'm trying to sell it to her at the moment, but I think the damage may have been done.

Bloody Gove.

LadyPeterWimsey Tue 14-Nov-17 09:30:38

My kids’ friends are almost all without exception heading straight for STEM courses because they (or more likely their parents) think the humanities are for the less bright and can’t see any money or job security in them. Since DH and I studied pretty fringe humanities subjects and make no money, they are probably right, but our older DC have been brainwashed into believing that you study what you enjoy and the job comes after - so DS took English Lit to AS level and DD is planning to take it.

DS (now studying another humanities subject at Oxbridge so not dim) found it really challenging and dropped it after AS. But it was his favourite AS Level because the class discussions were so stimulating. And DD is doing extremely well at it at GCSE but again finds it more challenging than lots of her other subjects.

These are bright kids, and readers, but they find it hard, and I don’t know why. Maybe after years of spoon-feeding, analysing texts just feels too big and vague and scary. They want to apply clear rules and get the answers definitely right because that’s what they feel they get in most other subjects. And it is a mental shift from that child-like reading for plot where all the matters is what happens next to stepping back and appreciating why the author made the choices they did.

I do think the quality of the teaching they’ve had has massively increased their enjoyment of the subject. And once DS got to A-Level, it was one of the few classes with the freedom just to talk about anything and everything.

noblegiraffe Tue 14-Nov-17 10:28:06

Literature is full of women as victims as is the media.

And it’s pretty dispiriting, isn’t it? I went to see Wonder Woman and came out feeling amazing, like I could totally kick arse. I showed it to my mum who hates superhero flicks and she loved it too. I thought ‘this must be what it feels like to be a boy/man watching films ^all the time^’

Anyway, have you asked current Y12 kids why they didn’t take Lit? (You do research stuff!). I did it for girls who got A or above who didn’t take maths and it was quite interesting. I didn’t have to do it for boys who got A or above and didn’t take maths because there weren’t any!

Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 10:30:37

Your post is very interesting wimsey. I had forgotten until then that my top set year 11 (six years ago) told me English was the hardest GCSE.

Maybe you are right : they like facts to quote Gradgrind and respond well to what we call spoon feeding and they call certainty.

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Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 10:57:43

No, I haven't done that Giraffe - but someone in the school ought to. I did do it for film A level once and it was interesting : but more obvious.

I will mention it to my colleague!

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noblegiraffe Tue 14-Nov-17 13:16:48

Funny, in maths we’re always told that they don’t like it because it’s right or wrong and you can’t just waffle your way through an answer and get some marks.

LadyPeterWimsey Tue 14-Nov-17 14:59:27

English Lit homework is one of the very few homeworks for which I get called in - they know not to call me for Maths. They don’t know the answers and they don’t know how to find the answers and they get frustrated when I tell them to look and think harder and they will come up with some answers, but not always the ones the question is looking for. To be fair, although I love having a bash, I don’t always know the answers straightaway either.

Analysing texts can be really hard. I’ve just this afternoon finished reading Station Eleven, which I really enjoyed, and I sat for ages and thought about it, and then googled and found some interesting analysis I hadn’t even begun to come up with. You have to look at a micro level and a macro level and from lots of different angles, and why would you, because it is really hard work when you could just read Harry Potter for the millionth bloody time again.

And parents think, well, it’s just reading books, isn’t it, and you can do that in your free time - take something that leads you to a clearly defined career. Utterly depressing.

Please keep going with trying to recruit them for A-level. At the very least I want my kids to go university and find friends who think it’s worth reading deeply.

Eolian Tue 14-Nov-17 15:07:36

Hmm. I couldn't have been less of a STEM person but I rejected English A Level in favour of Latin because of the volume of Lit. I was a prolific reader but found that a) I didn't like lots of what we studied at GCSE and b) when we did read something I liked, the analysis took all the joy out of reading it.
I think it's true also that schools and students are so hung up on target grades that students want progress to be very linear and tangible, which may be harder with less factual subjects.

The decline in my subject (MFL) is depressing. Hardly any state school students can really cope with lit in MFL these days.

SlothMama Tue 14-Nov-17 15:10:30

I had the choice between lit or lang, I chose lang because I was told it was easier and I hated literature at GCSE. We did OMAM and An Inspector calls, both of which I found to be so dull. Only good thing was watching Romeo and Juliet because we got to watch the film with Leo in it

Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 15:14:39

This is a bit depressing.

Clearly you OMAM haters weren't taught by me! wink

I will keep going wimsey and fight the good fight! Actually , I don't see it as a fight. My favourite student does Lit, maths and physics A levels.

My own DS doesn't do Lit - but he does do Spanish : he isn't looking forward to the lit. But I'll help him.

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Piggywaspushed Tue 14-Nov-17 15:18:12

Was it easier sloth? Did you like it? I always think lang is deadly dull to many students (I'm a geek so I like it)

We don't offer lang as it goes - but we do offer lang lit, which has eroded lit numbers and have always had film A level - plenty of students do both lit and film, however.

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