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Exploring issues in secondary subject English: Reconnecting curriculum, policy and practice

Evidence suggests that opportunities for students to enjoy talk, reading and writing in the subject of English are increasingly delimited in maintained secondary schools in England. The pressures of accountability have resulted in some schools teaching topics and texts designed for GCSE examination to 11-year-olds, thereby denying them opportunities to experience English as broad, balanced, diverse, creative and humane – despite these themes being fundamental to subject English since its inception.

This BERA Blog special issue was inspired by a conference organised by the English in Education special interest group and hosted by the University of Bedfordshire in June 2023. The conference explored issues in English, education and social justice, considering how current policy is enacted and the impact of that enactment on both teachers and students. The writers in the special issue draw on recent scholarship to explain the state of the subject as they see it now and the challenges inherent, and begin to examine how English policy might be conceived in the future.

The contributions explore:

  • English as a discipline, and how it has developed through its own complex and profound tradition of thought

  • how English policy uses metaphors to describe the subject, focusing on the ubiquitous, and unhelpful, image of the curriculum as a ‘journey’

  • older students’ experience of English, reporting on a research project that invited sixth-form students (aged 17–18) to explain why they did (or did not) opt to study English at Advanced level

  • how talk is often sidelined in contemporary English classrooms due to curricular pressures, and how we should be teaching students to appreciate the rules of speaking and listening that govern effective conversation

  • support for those students who do not gain a pass grade in GCSE English Language – the ‘forgotten third’ 

  • preparing new teachers in further education for the particular needs of resit students.


Profile picture of Lorna Smith
Lorna Smith, Dr

Associate Professor in Education at University of Bristol

Dr Lorna Smith is an associate professor in Education at the University of Bristol. A former Head of English, she has been involved in English initial teacher education (ITE) for 20 years and has led the secondary English PGCE course at Bristol...

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