EDITORIAL NWR Issue 20
A 'Dialect Not'
Years of inquiry, consultation and preparation preceded the introduction of the English Order into the National Curriculum. The framework which resulted has found widespread favour among English teachers in Wales as well as England. It has been accepted as striking the right balance between the use of language and introducing pupils to a range of literature. Here in Wales, the new curriculum has benefited the study of Welsh writing in English in particular, by encouraging teachers and pupils alike to study texts which, with the exception of Under Milk Wood
, and perhaps one or two others, were traditionally ignored, (see letters, pages 86, 87).
But rather than leave well alone, Government Education Ministers - Mr John Patten in England and Sir Wyn Roberts in Wales - are in danger of repeating the failures of the past. They have insisted the National Curriculum Council and the Curriculum Council for Wales produce revised proposals for English (CCW's initial view was that this was unnecessary) and then refused to say which of the two sets of recommendations now on the table they favour. Ultimately, it is suggested, a single curriculum will be applied to both Wales and England.
English teachers in England are understandably outraged over the NCC's proposals which recommend a return to a curriculum based upon "naming of the parts," Standard English, and the overriding importance of Shakespeare and few other classics, rather than upon the use and application of language and the crafting of effective writing.
In such circumstances, we should perhaps be grateful that Mr Patten has not ruled out that the Welsh Council's less prescriptive approach be also applied to schools in England but the pressure on him is ideological.
To take spoken English as an example. The NCC says Standard Spoken English should be aimed at from the age of 5 onwards, no matter what the child's background. The Welsh proposal is that this is less necessary until the age of 11. Without going into the position of those children whose first language is Welsh, the implicit assumption of both documents is that local dialects, carrying the values of family and community, are not just different, but inferior. This suggests that pupils can get better marks for conveying ideas less effectively in Standard English than in their own brand of English. In short, in place of the Welsh Not we shall have a "Dialect Not" When it comes to reading, again teachers are threatened with little or no choice in the NCC document which prescribes particular forms of literature for compulsory study. Yet successful poetry teaching stems from the enthusiasm of the teacher for particular poets or types of writing and they may not be on the list. The CCW recommendations, on the other hand, are more wide-ranging and include introducing secondary school children to works by Welsh authors writing in English or in translation, and to those which have a Welsh setting or special relevance to Wales; as well as to writers of different centuries and genres, and from different cultures.
But while the CCW's may not contain the nonsenses to be found in the NCC's document, in broad terms, its recommendations are still best described as the lesser of two evils, rather than a radical alternative.
Unless English teachers in Wales make their views known as a matter of urgency, there is still a danger the CCW's proposals could be brushed aside in favour of NCC's approach. Out will go an English curriculum designed to encourage pupils to express themselves and appreciate the literary diversity of Wales and the world. In its place will return a narrow prescriptive curriculum akin to that which benefited a minority of bright pupils attending grammar and independent schools 30 years ago. It failed a majority of pupils then and it will certainly do so again.
previous editorial: Swansea's Year of Literature
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