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16 November 2018

Policy, Belief and Practice in the Secondary English Classroom: A case study approach from Canada, England and Scotland

Bisi Olulode, Communications Officer

A case study of comparative classroom practice in the teaching of secondary English in Canada, England and Scotland. Does having greater autonomy in the classroom bring greater benefits to the teaching of English?

Teenage boy reading
Teenage boy reading

Does having greater autonomy in the classroom bring greater benefits to the teaching of English? What are the differences in English teaching practices in Canada, England and Scotland? Has the National Curriculum stifled the teaching of English in England compared with Canada and Scotland?

These are some of the questions that are addressed in “Policy, Belief and Practice in the Secondary English Classroom; A case -study approach from Canada, England and Scotland” by Bethan Marshall, Simon Gibbons, Louise Hayward and Ernest Spencer.

Dr Simon Gibbons highlighted why these case studies are important, comparing the teaching of secondary English in three contrasting countries, with Canada achieving second place for reading in the 2016 Programme for international student assessment (PISA). Canada surpassed England and Scotland by nineteen countries, the UK only coming in 21st place.

“The countries have had differing levels of state intervention in education policy. There is nothing we know of that compares the teaching of English in these countries at the level of the classroom, nor that includes testimony from the teachers working in those classrooms.”

“It’s not that the current national curriculum is very prescriptive. They don’t have a list of authors that you have to study but the exam syllabus’s does, and people will inevitably teach to the test” says Dr Bethan Marshall. “The exam boards take the national curriculum and then say what nineteenth century authors students have to study and it means everyone does “A Christmas Carol” or “Jekyll and Hyde”. There’s nothing wrong with these books it just means that students don’t study anyone contemporary. Add that to the fact that you can only do twentieth Century British authors and you get a further limitation – no Arthur Miller, no Harper Lee or Steinbeck. Nor can you do people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which a lot of schools did in London” Dr Marshall argues that the standard texts such as “A Christmas Carol”,” Jekyll and Hyde” and the works of Shakespeare do not reflect the society that we now live in today.”

In Ontario they do have to study a Canadian author, but teachers have the choice of what they want to study. An extract from the book illustrates this: 

At the Millennium School in Ontario when “Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese was introduced to the curriculum about a First Nation character abused in the care system, one pupil who was half Mohawk reflected in his final piece of work that “for his whole life he would lie and tell people he was Hispanic because he never heard anything good about being Indian.  Then he read this book, it was the first time he ever felt proud to say I’m a Mohawk” (Marian – Teacher)

“It's difficult to say what single thing was the most enlightening aspect of the study.  Perhaps in general terms it is the evidence of what goes on in English classrooms in Ontario, given Canada's high-performance rating in international education league tables,” commented Dr Gibbons.

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse former London Schools Commissioner and Birmingham Chief Education Officer, UK says:

“Every teacher of English to teenagers in the English-speaking world will profit from reading this book and wise principals will ensure their faculty/department has a copy.  The case studies in the three countries are illuminating and will stimulate any thinking teacher.  The rationale for teaching English towards the end of the book is lucidly compelling.”

You can register to attend at the link the Book launch - Policy, Belief and Practice in the Secondary English Classroom which is being held on 29th November at 5.30pm at in the Franklin Wilkins Building at King’s College London with Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, Dr Bethan Marshall and Dr Simon Gibbons.

In this story

Bethan Marshall

Senior Lecturer in English Education

Simon Gibbons

Reader in English Education Director of Teacher Education