English across the sectors

The First Year in Undergraduate English Literature

The First Year in Undergraduate English Literature

“This report will be an invaluable guide to anyone working on the design and implementation of first-year programmes.”


The English Subject Centre, like its fellow Subject Centres, is funded to work with UK Higher Education. Nevertheless, we seek (within the limits of our resources) to work with other groups and agencies in the interests of the subject and its learners across the educational sectors. Of course, an HE agency has a strong incentive to do so. All of our recruits have experienced school at some point – for the most part very recently. If the versions of the subject practised in schools and in universities grow too far apart, then fewer potential students will identify ‘English’ as a subject they wish to pursue further. One scenario – for English Literature, though this is less likely to be the case for English Language or Creative Writing – is to become more like Classics in the twentieth century: a high status subject for a small elite of the highly literate and culturally assured.

English at A-level: A Guide for HE Lecturers is one of two recent reports on A-level. It provides a lucid guide to English under ‘Curriculum 2000’, and outlines curricula and teaching and assessment practices. Printed copies have been distributed to all departments, but it is also available to download in PDF format from our reports area.

In this light, one of the English Subject Centre’s tasks is to work with English lecturers and admissions tutors to help them inform themselves better about the teaching and learning regimes which prevail in schools. As part of that strategy, we have just published English at A-level: A Guide for Lecturers. More broadly, we actively work with bodies such as The National Association for the Teaching of English, The English Association, Common English Forum, and the English and Media Centre to promote mutual understanding, and common visions for English across the sectors.

But there are other, less pragmatic, reasons for deploring the rift that grew up during the 1990s between the communities of practice in school and in HE. We cannot and should not assume that English in schools should naturally flow from English in universities. Because of the sheer scale and variety of English in education, we in HE are not the guardians of the subject in the sense in which, say, GCSE Chemistry derives directly from the research of Chemists. As a core curriculum subject, ‘English’ is studied by every child and young person, and its content and practices have been shaped not only by a series of national initiatives, but also by the work of generations of school teachers. Nor can we assume that the prime function of A-level is as a stepping stone to its higher education version: only around 10% of those who study A-level actually opt to read single honours English.