Dr John Gordon, Senior Lecturer in Education, University of East Anglia

Study on reading in schools challenges new English exams

Research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) suggests that approaches to reading linked to new GCSEs in English and English Literature may be counter-productive and put young people off reading. 

The findings come as thousands of pupils receive their GCSE results today. They include the first for reformed English language and English Literature GCSEs, where coursework has been abolished and assessment is through 100 per cent ‘closed book’ examination.

Dr John Gordon, of UEA’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, has been conducting research into shared reading of novels in primary and secondary schools, universities and reading groups for a project entitled Literature’s Lasting Impression.

A survey of 165 people and interviews with members of the public, current students and teachers about their experiences found that reading literature for the purpose of exams was very different from reading for pleasure.

For some, it put them off reading books they came to enjoy later in life, while analysis of a novel distracted them from engaging with the story and its characters. Dr Gordon says that where one novel selected for the exam is read by everyone in the class, the lack of choice for students could limit their enthusiasm for the text. The focus now of studying ‘literary features’ could be also off-putting and confusing, so that novels are not enjoyed for their own sake

Under the GCSE reforms, students are not allowed to take the novels or plays they have studied into exams, and there is greater emphasis on their ability to remember details of their study texts and to recall key quotations. A new number-based system will also see GCSEs graded 9-1, with 9 being the top grade, instead of the traditional A*-U.

Dr Gordon, a senior lecturer in education, said: “This project explored what makes shared reading of novels powerful, including what people remember of reading in school many years after the experience. Reading together in school and for an exam is a different experience to how you read at home, indeed reading a book together in this way is quite an unusual thing to do.

“What came across very strongly in the study was the enthusiasm people felt for reading together around the enjoyment of an excellent novel, recognition of skilled and inspiring teaching bringing novels to life, and the pleasure of the communal discussion.”

Dr Gordon added: “The results suggest there is an important place for reading together for its own sake, aside from reading for the purpose of exams, especially continuing late into secondary school.

“This could be especially important for encouraging lifelong reading for pleasure, potentially with more long-term impact on reading habits than an immediate goal of exam success. There are clearly many enthusiastic readers who do not necessarily enjoy traditional literary analysis, but welcome the experience of sharing and discussing stories together.”

In other strands of the project, which was funded by the British Academy, Dr Gordon has analysed transcripts of English lessons to look at how teachers skilfully guide students’ experience of novels for pleasure at the same time as supporting the sort of analysis required in exams.

This often requires subtle and distinctive storytelling techniques unique to English teaching, which Dr Gordon suggests need more systematic attention in teacher education and professional development.

Dr Gordon will present findings from the Literature’s Lasting Impression project at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) annual conference next month.

DfE logo750x570A Department for Education spokesperson said:

The government’s new gold-standard qualifications are a culmination of a six year process of curriculum and qualifications reform and we have worked with Ofqual to issue a wide range of resources since 2014 to help raise awareness of the new grading system. We have also been working directly with the CBI and others to communicate this with employers.

We will ensure that engagement continues with businesses to communicate these new gold-standard qualifications.

This is part of our drive to continue raising standards so every child is taught the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life‎. Most recently every school and college have been sent a pack with information for teachers, pupils, parents, and employers.

About The School of Education and Lifelong Learning at UEA: One of the UK's leading centres for research and teaching in professional education and training, it has consistently received endorsement from Ofsted inspectors for the high standard of its Initial Teacher Education courses. Recognised for its work in educational innovation and social change; literacy and development; and mathematics education, 77% of research in the School was rated “world leading” or “internationally excellent” according to the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014). Additionally, the impact of the School’s research was rated 80% “internationally excellent”.

About The British Academy: The UK's national body for the humanities and social sciences – the study of peoples, cultures and societies, past, present and future. We have three principal roles: as an independent Fellowship of world-leading scholars and researchers; a Funding Body that supports new research, nationally and internationally; and a Forum for debate and engagement – a voice that champions the humanities and social sciences.

You may also be interested in these articles:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 2 days ago

RT @FENews: NGWLive: Network Rail: NGWLive: Network Rail https://t.co/zqS6YwqgxP
View Original Tweet

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 2 days ago

City of London Corporation provides Square Mile schoolchildren with food vouchers during half term break:… https://t.co/QilxKc8yaD
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page