HC Deb 12 March 1991 vol 187 c803
14. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received regarding the standards set in examinations in English literature; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I have not received any representations about the standards set in GCSE or A-level examinations in English literature.

Mr. Nicholson

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take note of the concern felt by the Oxford University English faculty, which claims that students are being exiled from their cultural heritage, that English literature is being marginalised in some schools and that there is a trendy fashion for appearing to raise standards by making exams easier? Does he accept that Conservative Members would not agree to a process of educational apartheid, putting the fortunate few who come from well-educated backgrounds in touch with literature but leaving the vast majority ignorant of their cultural heritage?

Mr. Clarke

I feel as strongly as my hon. Friend that we should ensure that pupils are not cut off from access to the complete corpus of English literature, both traditional and contemporary. Those who are implementing the reforms and conducting today's examinations do not intend to do that. It is not always fair to compare the pupils who took O-levels in both English literature and English language with those who are now taking only English language exams at GCSE. The School Examinations and Assessment Council and the examining bodies are, however, laying down syllabuses that require a wide range of reading and knowledge of English literature, including Shakespeare. I shall do all that I can to ensure that that continues.