From The Bard to Russell Brand

In Uncategorized by Alex Quigley9 Comments


‘To study, or not to study’

Today the newspapers were awash with stories to make our great British population wince with embarrassment and raise a fist in fury. Our hallowed tradition of literature is apparently under threat of being sullied by the dumbing down of a new A level qualifications. It is sure to send our nation spiralling into inexorable decline. Shakespeare and Austen paired with Dizzy Rascal and Russell Brand. Oh, the horror, the horror!

The Department for Education were outraged at this “rubbish“. The Daily Mail put aside their immigration-nation narrative to one side for at least a few hours to demonise their bête noire – drug fuelled raconteur Russell Brand. Bejewelled with breast-laden hyperlinks, “Brand-speak” was suitably denounced. Of course, if we can gloss over the celebrity fuelled sex-spiked Daily Mail stories for one moment, we can buys ourselves with many linked condemnations of our state education system.

Our education system has gone to the dogs; standards are falling; Chinese children are beating our teenagers into a celeb-intoxicated stupor. The list goes on.

Insert your narrative of national educational decline here…

Yet, there is no need to worry. Standards will be upheld. The Department for Edification have laid down their not-so-subtle opinions on the matter. We shall all be saved from the gross popular culture monster waiting to be born.

Only ask an English teacher with a passing knowledge of A level and you will quickly understand that this whole story is a colossal straw man. It is mere hyperbole heaped upon hysteria. It is a non-story masked as news.

The qualification being rounded criticised is not the traditional English Literature qualification of literary study most of the nation know and love. It is not even the study of linguistics of the similarly well known English Language qualification. It is the less popular, but still common hybrid that plucks from both. Some literary study, with some linguistic analysis.

It is the stuff of many a respected degree. Indeed, my degree from a respected university was the pleasant study of English Language and Literature. In discreet units I studied grammar, language change and in literature units of study I read the classics. All unworthy of sensational headlines I can tell you.

English Language A level, and this existing English Language and Literature course, have long since included transcripts and such like. Gender, power and technology are all the stuff of linguistic analysis. Morphology, phonology, etymology, semantics and all the jazz. It is a complex corpus of knowledge worthy of study. Russell Brand is but a miniature snapshot in a rich tapestry of texts.

Of course, headlines will fade. Stories will be rehashed and OCR and the English and Media Centre will no doubt construct a respected A level out of the ashes of this controversy. We should not be gripped by fear, or be caught by this story of supposed educational decline.

Shakespeare isn’t being subsumed by celebrity. Our cherished canon of Literature is safe and well.

We need not fear Russell Brand becoming our next poet laureate. At least not yet.

Related article:

I added my five pennies worth to the Guardian article today – see here. Perhaps don’t spend much time combing the pages of cantankerous comments!


  1. As upset as The Daily Mail are over this issue, they’re not nearly as upset as I am every time one of their articles appears on an AQA Language paper.

  2. Alex – 994 comments on the Guardian article, none on yours,. I sort of think commenting here might get read, so excuse me going first.
    The Guardian costs today £1.60. Taking the paper digitally does not cost me quite so much, but actually digital papers were not around in the 19th century. Given the paper has 80 pages, that makes each page 2pence. If this article covered half of a page, could we not suggest that Richard Adams’s article worthy of the title ‘Penny dreadful’? The growing volume of incredibly lazy journalism around tiny chunks of non-news providing lurid stories in serial form is certainly worth the title. Unless of course, only a quarter of a page was covered, in which case we have the halfpenny dreadfuller. The target audience over a hundred years ago was adolescent. I wonder now whether the audience that responds to this trite rubbish is any wiser?

    1. Author

      There certainly was no real news in the this news. Celebrity sells and ‘educational decline’ sells. Put them together and you spark a 1000 comments!

  3. Pingback: The Penny Dreadful, the Ha’penny Dreadfuller – will we ever learn? | A Principled view

  4. While I agree totally with your assessment of the current media apoplexy, I’ve never understood why a lang/lit A level exists. After all there isn’t a hist/geog or a phys/chem A level. Both would be equally valid.

  5. It’s fascinating to me the way certain stories are portrayed in the papers. We see it all the time over here in Canada. “Tuition Spikes!” being a big, recurrent story.

    I happen to really like Russel Brand to be honest. He has a lot of good ideas and doesn’t conform to the way things currently are, but challenges us all to make a change for the better in my opinion.

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