Saturday, 24 August 2013

English GCSE: What's it worth?

Luisa Zissman, star of The Apprentice was on Breakfast TV this morning because she has 'ditched the apostrophe'.  She asked on Twitter "Is it Bakers Toolkit or Baker's Toolkit with an apostrophe?", ignored the correct answer and decided to run with the former because she liked the look of it.

The apostrophe is important because it helps us communicate. However I don't mind Waterstones or Boots losing their apostrophe. That's up to them and if it helps their marketing then I can see why they do it. However the important moment in the interview for me was when Luisa told us that she had an A grade in an English GCSE but didn't know how to use an apostrophe.

If the grades in an English qualification do not tell us how good that person is in using the English language then we need a new method of testing. Employers want to know that their prospective employees can work for them and writing is often a significant part of that work. It is a building block for good communication. I don't think employers just want someone who can tell you about a Shakespearean character (though that can be important too, as being well-read can indicate that they are well-rounded generally). They want somebody who can get it right.

There was another interesting interview on Breakfast TV with a young man who could memorise the order of a pack of cards and we were told that memory techniques could be used to help children at school. The trouble is that there will be children who are taught memory tricks. I don't think you will find this on the school syllabus but those who have access to this kind of trick will be using them and what happens is that employers will choose applicants who not only don't know their grammar but also have forgotten their Shakespeare - because it was a memory trick.

We need a qualification that tells us that someone is good at English and it sounds like a GCSE in English doesn't fit that bill.

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