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GCSE 'English' vs. 'English Language'

Discussion in 'English' started by enfield1, Mar 9, 2017.

  1. enfield1

    enfield1 New commenter

    Hi all,

    I was having a discussion with someone the other day who must have sat her GCSEs during the early '90s. She was adamant that she had a GCSE certificate in 'English Language', however I pointed out that GCSE English Language is a relatively new paper introduced by Gove - prior to that it was 'English'.

    Would anyone be able to tell me if 'English Language' did exist during the early days of GCSEs before it was replaced with the more inclusive 'English' (covering literature cross-over coursework, media texts, poetry from other cultures etc.)? If so, was it a more traditional 'language' course á la O Level English Language e.g. looking at the history of English, origin of words, grammar etc.?

  2. CandysDog

    CandysDog Established commenter

    From 1988 (the start of the GCSE) until 2011, there were two English GCSEs: English and English Literature.

    As you say, GCSE English was deliberately called this to illustrate that it was wider than just English Language (many CSEs took the same approach). When the National Curriculum came in, GCSE English covered all of it. Most students did, of course, also study GCSE English Literature.

    Many people did colloquially refer to GCSE English as GCSE English Language (including the GTTR, I remember!), so it is understandable that your friend believes it was called this. In many respects, GCSE English was the successor to O Level English Language (despite the systems' many differences) and the unitary nature of the course got a bit forgotten over time (as it was mostly language-based and pretty much everyone was studying a dedicated GCSE in English Literature).

    The introduction of a GCSE called English Language actually predates Michael Gove. It was first awarded in 2012, but was developed under the previous Labour Government. Despite names, GCSE English Language still contained literary study. It just didn't quite have enough to cover the National Curriculum (making GCSE English Literature compulsory alongside it). GCSE English, however, did. Now the divide was more about whether students took two English GCSEs (Language and Literature) or one (English).

    Now, for the first time ever, we don't have a GCSE called English, as everyone does English Language and English Literature. But there's still literature study in Language (and language study in Literature) – which just goes to show that the two can't ever be fully separated.
  3. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    I did my GCSEs in 1995, so took the English and English Literature exams that you mention. I always thought of it as being 'Language', although my certificate only says 'English'; I think perhaps this was because the traditional view of 'language' at the time was that the subject covered reading and writing (comprehension and production of different genres and purposes etc.). I don't remember having to write about words types, grammar or structure, but I do remember learning about active and passive voice etc. All I remember of the exam is writing about an unseen text.

    The course did not look at the history of English, origins of words, grammar etc. It was more about literacy - reading, writing, understanding. We didn't do coursework. There was a spoken element, which I suppose was about eloquence. I never head of PEE paragraphs until I started teacher training.
  4. enfield1

    enfield1 New commenter

    Thank you for your insightful responses. As you both hint, clearly teachers were still referring to 'English' as 'English Language' well beyond 1988. I suppose it was less confusing that way, even though the certificates have never stated 'English Language'.

    I remember GCSE English being built around Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. It is interesting, blueskydreaming, that you touch upon 'literacy' there; without meaning to open a whole new can of worms, I am curious to hear from pupils who were at primary school during the '00s as to their perception of the difference between Literacy and English. Strictly speaking literacy refers to reading and writing, while oracy refers to speaking to listening, however the whole concept of 'Literacy Hour' ended up becoming synonymous with English as a subject per se, in the same way it is difficult to the English Language spec. contains Literature and vice versa. Interestingly, in recent years 'literacy' has fallen out of favour as a distinct subject; in my experience, the term is reserved, alongside 'numeracy', when referring to cross-curricular.
  5. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    The English GCSE, for me, was about reading and writing, and doing so competently: reading and understanding the unseen texts, answering questions about them, completing a writing task (newspaper article, creative writing etc.)

    For the 'speaking' element we had to do several 'talks' during the 2 years, in front of our class. We got a random grade for that. Don't know where listening came in, there were no questions from the audience as I recall. The speaking element was a very small part of the course.

    So, from my point of view, the GCSE was about me showing that I was literate - that I had a good vocabulary, could write according to the purpose/genre of the task, could decipher a text, etc.
  6. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    I wish teachers and Gove could have been fully separated.

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