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‘You could do Year 12 English without reading a book’

Students will now study fewer texts for HSC English Photo: Marina NeilA former chief HSC English examiner has described the overhaul of the HSC as an “unprecedented watering down” of the English syllabuses and warned students could finish Year 12 “without reading a book”.

Jackie Manuel, a Sydney University academic who has also been involved in reforms to the state’s English syllabuses for kindergarten to Year 10, said she was dismayed that it would no longer be mandatory for year 12 students to read a novel or study a poem.

Dr Manuel, who was chief HSC English examiner from 2007 to 2011, described the sweeping changes to the syllabus as “vandalism of the subject”.

“This is sending a strong message to students and the community that fiction and poetry, two of the most sophisticated forms of human expression in language, do not matter,” Dr Manuel said.

“We will have a situation where if a student is not reading a book at home, then they could go through their final year without reading a book.”

Students doing advanced English will still have Shakespeare as a mandatory text, but the number of texts they will be required to study has been reduced from five to four, while in standard English, students will now only have to do three texts.

“Did the architects of the new syllabus stop to consider the implications of deciding that reading novels and poetry in Year 12 was of so little educational value that it should now, after more than 100 years in NSW English, be an optional extra in the final year of schooling,” Dr Manuel said.

The NSW Education Standards Authority, formerly the Board of Studies, has overhauled 22 HSC courses, releasing new syllabuses for English, maths, science and history. The authority says the changes are designed to bring more depth and rigour to the HSC.

A spokesman for the authority said studying fewer texts allowed “more time for deeper examination of quality literature and for refining writing skills”.

Dr Manuel said a new module for standard and advanced English courses, the Craft of Writing, was a “fantastic” addition to the syllabus. The module will focus on honing students’ writing skills with an emphasis on improving their grammar, spelling and punctuation.

But she warned that capable students would be drawn to studying the lowest level English Studies course, which will for the first time count towards a student’s ATAR.

“I am sure we will see a flight from the more rigorous course to the easier course to maximise their ATAR and if are a year 12 kid, you would be mad not to consider this,” Dr Manuel said.

The spokesman for the standards authority said: “The English Studies course is highly valued for its flexibility and capacity to address the diverse needs of a specific cohort of students.”

He said the the authority was consulting on “exam specifications” for the English courses and how it would apply to English Studies.

“NESA is aware of the diverse views on this matter and is working on implementation measures to ensure there is no incentive for high achieving students to enrol in this course to fulfil the requirements of 2 units of English for their HSC,” the spokesman said.

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