Dizzee Rascal and Russell Brand: The New Controversial A-Level

There have been news reports that students could study a literature and English language A-level that will include Russell Brand’s opinions about drug regulations, Caitlin Moran’s tweets, also a BBC Newnight interview with Dizzee Rascal, and articles by a former Guardian journalist.

The OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA) exam board has reportedly collaborated with the English and Media Centre, and an educational charity to create these contemporary A-level courses which will have to under-go a post-examination evaluation and approval by Ofqual prior to being available to students in 2015. A spokesman for the Department for Education has commented that:

“All new A-levels must be accredited by the independent exams regulator Ofqual against new, more rigorous criteria. This exam has not been accredited and we await Ofqual’s decision with interest

Currently, the AQA exam board includes an array literature and English language courses which include poetry and texts, however, in comparison to the OCR exam board’s proposals opinions are fiercely divided. The Department for Education is not backing the new courses, and a senior source for the DfE has commented that:

“Schools should be aware that if they offer this rubbish in place of a proper A-level, then pupils may not get into good universities. We will expect other exam boards to do better. It is immensely patronising to young people to claim that they will only engage with English language and literature through celebrities such as Russell Brand.”

Despite a lack of support from the DfE, the co-director of the English and Media Centre Barbra Bleiman has made some interesting points in favour of these courses, by commenting:

“A Twitter feed is a hybrid that has features of written language and features of spoken language, so it’s particularly interesting to study something like Twitter or a blog or online communication because it sharpens the questions of what distinguishes speech and writing.

Barbra Bleiman also commented that:

“This combination of study, of non-literary and literary texts, actually equips students who want to study English at university to do incredibly well because they will have finely tuned linguistic skills.”

Alex Quigley, an assistant head English subject leader at Huntington school based in York has also made supportive comments:

“There is no decline in standards to witness here. Just two quite different disciplines being merged in what looks like an interesting and varied course.”

The subjects of these newly proposed A-levels are being highly scrutinised, but this scrutiny however lop-sided, is drawing the issue of “educational snobbery” into the spotlight once again. A-level students should be offered diversity that derives from studying subjects that are relevant, and relevancy is what should be debated here not the subject matter and who it refers to.