Looking down the list of set texts across each exam board, it can be alarming how few we feel qualified to teach. We are, after all, subject specialists. However, it is far more challenging to keep pace with English Literature than it is with Maths, Science or, indeed, English Language – the literary canon grows wider by the day, whereas the other disciplines evolve far more glacially. Taking this into consideration, Beyond makes the case for including Anita and Me into the GCSE text pantheon…
Fear of the Unknown: Anita and Me in GCSE English
In such a frenzied climate, it is perhaps unsurprising that centres cling to the classics. When the 2015 specification launched, it heralded ‘texts that will be familiar to you as well as new ones that will inspire young readers… there is something that will appeal to every teacher and every student.’ No offence AQA but, though new texts are indeed appealing, we’re not sure where you expect the average English teacher to find the time to sample them all. An exploratory first read would consume a few hours we don’t really have spare. And producing from scratch the planning that we’d be confident would hit all the assessment objectives and adequately prepare our pupils for the rigours of examination, that’d be like taking on a second job, and the first’s big enough thanks!
So then, when faced with a new GCSE spec, the natural instinct is to hold firm to what you know rather than wade into unchartered territory. Hence, An Inspector Calls and Lord of the Flies remain far more widely studied than Pigeon English or The History Boys. Let’s also admit, however, that year after year of the same old texts can be unstimulating for students and teachers alike. The 2020-21 academic year was perhaps not one for any more radical departures but if, as school life begins to settle back into a more natural rhythm, you have a hankering for something different, then our Anita and Me unit of work might be just what you’re looking for.
Getting to Know ‘the Other’
Approved by AQA, Edexcel, Eduqas and OCR, Meera Syal’s semi-autobiographical debut novel is a breath of fresh air amongst some of the more stale offerings. It’s a riotous read that makes light of cultural differences while sensitively exploring their alienating effect. Diversity isn’t a box to be ticked but, if you’re looking for a non-white, non-male, non-deceased author, then Syal certainly does provide a big tick. And what’s the easier sell to students: a primetime BBC actress/comedian with credits on stage, screen and radio as well as print, or a fusty writer who probably thinks YouTube is a bespoke transport service?
Moreover, Anita and Me is an absolute gift for AO3. Syal’s account of a second-generation immigrant growing up in the Black Country in the late 1960s alludes to the Partition of India, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and the National Front. As a representation of British Asians, it finds humour in the stereotypes while also fleshing them out. Even though the novel itself is a quarter of a century old, the themes continue to resonate and there is ample opportunity here to explore recent history that still has relevance to the here and now.
The downsides? The colourful cast of minor characters, the unreliable narrator and the discursive narrative can be difficult for less able readers to follow, though our Cast List and Narrative Map offer a helping hand. A degree of moral ambiguity means it’s also less suitable for those who like things more black and white, however our Character Cards provide a fun and dramatic route into exploring complex relationships and a range of perspectives. Additionally, the 328 pages are not neatly sectioned into definitive extracts or key quotes but our Chapter-by-Chapter Lesson Packs and Knowledge Organiser aim to order learning as far as possible. That leaves the main worry being the humour getting lost in translation when it’s being studied rather than read for pleasure!
Anita and Me for GCSE? All Sorted…
Come assessment time, an Exam Pack, complete with mark scheme and indicative content, complements the past papers already available. And that crucial revision aid, a 2002 feature film, handily summarises the story into 90 minutes of action. There is also a stage play which has appeared on the A level syllabus, but beware the subtle differences in format, despite all being written by the same person – the Film Review resource helps students to differentiate and avoid falling into the classic trap of describing the film rather than analysing the book.
Hopefully, all this takes away the fear of venturing into the unknown. So why not try something new in 2021-22? After all, we’re English teachers, so there really should be no greater joy than picking up a new book! Why not try Anita and Me in GCSE English with Beyond?
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