Pay attention, there’s a test (part 2)

At 18, students ought to be able to handle History plays, but the exam boards don’t seem to like them?

BH KS5 texts

Following my recent KS4 post, I extended my research to A Level – that is the exams taken by 18-year olds before they hit university.  Again, I’d love to hear from students or teachers, especially in other countries.  Here are a few thoughts of my own:

  • schools aren’t obliged to stay with the same exam board for both qualifications, and by switching, it is possible to study the same play – those highlighted in blue – at KS4 and KS5.  I wonder how many do.  It feels like ‘gaming the system’, and that level of familiarity might assist schools and results, but imagine the overall disservice to students of giving them the same text for four years;
  • Although, of course, the level of answer expected is that much higher, it feels a little odd to be offering The Dream at this stage.  At my school, the latest you will get to study it is in Y8 (and KS5 = Years 12 and 13);
  • I suggested that Henry V was a noticeable absence from GCSE, and the omission, and general exclusion of the History plays, here is more glaring.   It can’t be coincidence – anyone able to put forward a reason?
  • Hamlet makes a welcome appearance here; this also feels like the very earliest when students should be tasked with Lear.  It still feels a little early – I believe you need a certain amount of life experience to deal with the complex familial relationships;
  • Measure For Measure is, perhaps surprisingly, the most popular play across the exam boards.  I hope that by the time they study it, the students are more receptive to open-ended narratives – in lower years I get disbelief and resentment whenever I teach a story, eg Roald Dahl‘s ‘The Landlady’, where they have to think about what happens next
  • As last time, if I ruled the world, students would get a selection of the following ten:
    • Richard II;
    • Richard III;
    • Hamlet;
    • Coriolanus;
    • As You Like It;
    • The Merchant of Venice;
    • 1 Henry IV;
    • Henry V;
    • Antony & Cleopatra; and
    • (possibly) Twelfth Night

But what do YOU think?

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

10 thoughts on “Pay attention, there’s a test (part 2)”

  1. It does seem a bit odd. Mind you back in the dim and distant past when I did O and A level English, we did Henry IV Pt 1, Julius Caesar and Othello. I would have like more history plays but at least we did some brilliant stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Twelfth Night was my O Level text, and Richard II, my A Level one. Your three sound a better overall selection. There’s plenty of comedy in the first to satisfy that requirement, and they cover history and tragedy nicely between them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True. But I do have a deep and unreasonable attachment to the history plays, especially Richard III – to the point where I really can’t remember how many times I’ve seen it, including in the pop-up Rose Theatre in York last weekend, which ranks among my favourites, alongside Anthony Sher, and the Hull Truck effort last year.


      2. Oops, just seen this. I have seen the tralier for Ralph Fiennes and thought him terrifying. I have a soft spot for Ron Cooke in Jane Howell’s BBC adaptation – there’s a mischievous twinkle in his eyes at times.


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