THE Department of Education were quick to stand on the story that future English A-Level students may have to study the work of Russell Brand, and his comments on drug prevention to a parliamentary select committee. “Schools should be aware that if they offer this rubbish in place of a proper A-level, then pupils may not get into good universities,” a department spokesman said, although only after the story of one exam board’s headline-grabbing exercise had long since bolted. “We will expect other exam boards to do better. It is immensely patronising to young people to claim that they will only engage with English language and literature through celebrities such as Russell Brand”.
But, of course, one school around here, Hampstead School, had already started putting Brand in their exam papers four years ago, way ahead of all of this dreamy talk about putting the long-wordy My Booky Wooky comedian on the school syllabus. Back then, a well-meaning spark thought a transcript of the famously obscene radio calls made to actor Andrew Sachs by Brand and Jonathan Ross, would be perfect material for a Year 10 exam.
It was a bit of a scoop for the New Journal at the time, a debate starter. The Daily Mail was outraged, as was the Telegraph, especially when headteacher Jacques Szemalikowski defended the choice: “I think it is a totally appropriate thing to be doing. We are in the real world and children live in the real world. The unit is all about how people react to language and the limits of freedom of expression and this was a famous snippet.”
You can’t win, though. That quote, that interest in freedom of expression, was recalled by some of Hampstead’s peskiest pupils last year when the same head made efforts to stop a student-run blog being seen on school computers, making further headlines alerting the police to its author’s ‘anarchist’ writings.