Exploring diversity through GCSE English
Exploring diversity through GCSE English

As a champion for diversity, we understand the importance of learners being exposed to a range of topics that will allow them to develop their understanding and critical thinking. Here our English Subject Officers Guy Melhuish and Julia Harrison explores how a diverse range of reading texts and oracy stimulus material can be used in preparing learners for our WJEC GCSE English qualifications.

Questioning how we interact and respond to one another in troubling times has never seemed so important. Encouraging young people to engage with different views, ideas, experiences, feelings and issues through creative processes is one way we help them understand the world around them and to explore the diversity which they find.

As well as fostering enquiry and debate, teachers can support students in topics and issues that interest them through our WJEC GCSE English qualifications.

GCSE English Language

Our specification provides opportunities for teachers to design a programme of study to incorporate a diverse selection of texts exploring contemporary issues. As there is no prescribed reading list, teachers have the freedom to use any number of continuous and non-continuous texts that demonstrate the three genres of each external examination unit.

For Unit 1: Oracy, students complete two equally weighted non-examination tasks: an individual researched presentation and a group discussion. For the presentation, students select from a choice of themes outlined in the specification giving them autonomy on subject matter that is relevant to them. For example, the theme of citizenship offers students the opportunity to explore their position within society considering a wide range of issues affecting themselves on a local, regional or global level. We continue to encourage centres to allow students to be as independent as possible in the choices they make, and that ethos remains. For the group discussion, WJEC provides three sets of stimulus materials, covering a wide range of topics such as the relevance of the curriculum, work experience and votes for 16-year-olds.

For the external assessments, we follow the principles contained in the Fair Access by Design document where the aim is to be inclusive of the diversity of the learner population. Each assessment through its development process undergoes an equality impact assessment ensuring that as far as possible assessments are free from bias, stereotyping or language which may cause offence.

When selecting topics for use in external assessments, we draw from areas that are of general interest across society. Text choices aim to promote inclusivity and offer varied perspectives on the topic in question. Some examples of texts/topics that have been used are Fairtrade, foodbanks, baking and voluntourism.

The writing tasks for both Units are based on broad topic areas to maximise accessibility for all students, enabling them to draw upon their own experiences and to demonstrate their level of attainment.  When assessing writing pieces, responses are fully anonymised when presented to the examiners and examiners are trained to apply the mark scheme, crediting each response on its own merits.

GCSE English Literature

English Literature offers opportunities to introduce students to a range of texts by different authors from different races, classes, genders and sexualities. The GCSE course encourages learners to engage with different views, ideas, experiences and feelings through the study of poetry, prose and drama to help them to better understand the world and to explore the diversity which they find.

Preparation for the unseen poetry question gives teachers and learners the freedom to study their own choices of poems from a wide range of contexts. There are no prescribed texts and rich possibilities here. Learners could engage with a range of styles and themes from poets such as John Agard, Moniza Alvi, Maya Angelou, James Berry, Eavan Boland, Jackie Kay, Grace Nichols, Benjamin Zephaniah. Work by other poets from the 20th and 21st centuries may also be chosen.

Learners can discuss a range of matters linked to diversity, including gender issues, class, religion, race and identity, through their study of plot, characterisation, events, and key themes in the Shakespeare text.  The very nature of the ‘different cultures prose’ unit offers learners the opportunity to explore social, historical and cultural influences and the different viewpoints and situations found in literary texts. Some teachers already take the opportunity to study Syal’s Anita and Me or Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

The specification will be kept under review. We are here to support teachers and learners to explore and engage with the world in all its rich diversity in their studies; if you have any queries or suggestions, please contact our subject experts who are happy to help.


Useful Links:

John Agard

Moniza Alvi

Maya Angelou

James Berry

Eavan Boland

Jackie Kay

Grace Nichols

Benjamin Zephaniah