Constructive criticism

November 21, 2013

We were pleased to see Martin Halliwell of the English Association and David Duff of the Council for College and University English make their first public joint announcement in a non-specialist forum (“Not damned, united”, Letters, 14 November). We hope this begins a wider and more fruitful debate.

The letter focuses on their work on government policy consultations, activities we covered in “What happens in the tempest?” (31 October). This is demanding and important work, and we applaud them for doing it. However, they did not begin to address our more substantive and fact-based concerns. For example, what action are they taking on the continuing rows about the place of English in GCSE reform, a subject over which Tristram Hunt and Michael Gove clashed recently? Are the association and the council investigating why English literature is declining in secondary and higher education? How are we to address concerns over English teaching? How are we going to take advantage of the opportunities and avoid the risks of open access?

At this difficult moment, the discipline of English needs to engage urgently in a campaign of consultation, information and culture-building. We make two practical suggestions.

First, that the council and association undertake a comprehensive information-gathering survey of as many members of the higher education English community as possible to ensure that the bodies represent the views of the discipline. Second, that they undertake a campaign of outreach and begin regular communication with academics to rebuild a sense of community and shared purpose. The National Association of Writers in Education, for example, has an excellent regular newsletter, while the Standing Conference of University Drama Departments has a mailing list for information exchange.

Robert Eaglestone, Royal Holloway, University of London
Simon Kövesi, Oxford Brookes University

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Reader's comments (1)

I would like to endorse the concerns outlined by Robert Eaglestone and Simon Kövesi, and to ask that we are not deflected from the issues they raise by internal grievances about misrepresentation regarding roles of CCUE and the English Association. The EA plays a fine role as watchdog at the interface between schools and universities; and CCUE is the forum for English Studies debate. What is needed however is not a merely responsive public analysis role when the government seeks views on policy; but an active and more robust and collective intervention in the public sphere to respond to the frankly alarming developments in our discipline under fire from government prejudicial action and planning. English Studies needs a committed and collective voice now more than ever. Adam Piette, University of Sheffield

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