In a blog post that asked me to reflect on my feelings about studying English and Maths at GCSE level, I must apologise in advance for the sheer amount of bias that will be shown to the first subject mainly because, you know…I’m an English teacher.
Saying this, I’d be lying if I said that I’d always loved literature. At school, English was something that came quite naturally to me, I didn’t particularly read a lot outside of the course texts but I paid plenty of attention to teachers and this put me in good stead. I fell lucky with my course as we focused on texts such as ‘Lord of the Flies’, ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Jane Eyre’ and plays such as ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and ‘Macbeth’. Texts that all had plenty of discussion points and many contentious issues reflective of their respective societies. And that’s where I think things changed for me: I loved the idea that novels and plays could capture attitudes of a generation (or individuals, considering Charlotte Bronte). Literature seemed to call out to me and I suppose I kind of felt like a detective when working out how the context corresponded with the conflicts of the texts studied. Now ten years later, I’m teaching ‘Jane Eyre’ to my AS English Literature group and still loving the text as much as I had done when I first read it at the age of 14 years old. But I digress. I should really talk about Maths before I get carried away.
I hate to sound like a know-it-all, but I actually enjoyed Maths a lot too. Not necessarily things like trigonometry and calculator tasks; more the problem solving and accuracy that was required for the correct answer. I enjoyed being challenged by head-scratching equations and exploring a number of different avenues that could be considered. I suppose it was really the trial and error approach that I enjoyed, if you fail to find the answer first time, try again! But here I must pay credit to my teachers who were always enthusiastic and supportive – this, obviously, tends to be the difference between hating and loving a subject.
Despite predominantly having positive experiences when studying both subjects I also remember, quite literally, crying with frustration when struggling with new approaches to problem solving or failing to understand a text, having read the same page on numerous occasions. Homework could always push me and without the consistent support of peers or teachers, I found myself struggling to complete work when I had exhausted all other options to no avail. This for me, is why the resit system doesn’t necessarily work for students that ‘fail’.
English and Maths skills are both clearly essential in our day-to-day lives here in the UK, whether it be for working out the change needed for a ‘day saver’ on the bus, or being able to articulately communicate what it is that you don’t understand about a subject/instruction. If a student fails either English or Maths, there are countless reasons as to why this might have happened, so why pile all students into the same boat again? Every student has an individual need and so it seems more appropriate to me to test them (like the BKSB test we give our students should do) and place them in categorised groups based on what it is that student struggles with, i.e. Speaking or Listening? Reading or Writing?. The same then, could be applied to Maths.
I’m not sure whether this sounds feasible or like the ramblings of a mad man but there we have it! I’ll try to sound less pro-English studying in the next blog, I promise!