News: U.S. Classics removed from GCSE Syllabus in favour of British

The London Sunday Times is today reporting on moves to ban USA classics from the GCSE syllabus for students in England, in favour of classic British writers.

Books on the hit list, reportedly initiated by Education Secretary Michael Gove include: John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, Arthur Miller’s play ‘The Crucible’, and the Harper Lee novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

A spokesperson for OCR, the examining body claimed,

“Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past. Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic.”In the new syllabus 70-80% of the books are from the English canon.”

Reaction has been scathing from teachers, of whom this will impact. In relation to this story teachers have aired their views:

  • “Gove just gets more and more ridiculous!”
  • “Just seen the full Times article. Educating Rita in, The Crucible out. I despair, I really do.”
  • “Now Gove has “To Kill a Mockingbird” banned from the GCSE syllabus, the book that encouraged so many of us to read.”
  • “This makes me incredibly angry! Such important and beautiful literature! Suggests the English lit only read worthy if forced.”
  • “I am so frustrated by Gove’s curriculum – I wonder when he last spoke to teachers and children.”
  • “Eng Lit books are dictated by his personal tastes.What next? Miss out trigonometry from maths because his missus isn’t keen on it?”
  • “Is it the education secretary’s job to impose his personal tastes on a generation?”
  • “Michael Gove has removed To Kill a Mockingbird & Of Mice and Men off the English Syllabus. Political gerrymandering at its most insidious”

One English teacher told UKEdChat:

I’d like to invite Mr Gove into my classroom to witness students being visibly moved by the fate of Steinbeck’s protagonists or eloquently discussing his use of symbolism to convey meaning. Of Mice and Men may be derided due to it being a relatively short American novel, but I would argue Steinbeck packs a punch with every word.

John Steinbeck & Harper Lee’s classic novels have much to teach us. Whilst the new GCSE syllabus may have been ‘toughened up’ we have been told to teach ‘seminal world literature’ at KS3. I want my students to read and be exposed to great writers. But ‘great’ doesn’t always mean dense, unwieldy or ancient. (It doesn’t exclusively mean dead, white and male either, but that’s another debate entirely.)

There will always be a place for Jem and Scout, George and Lennie in my classroom, just as there will for the musings of Wordsworth and his fellow Romantics, so beloved by Mr Gove.

I’m not sure why he seems to favour and value certain writers over others or what scale he is using to measure their literary merit, but as Atticus Finch teaches his children: “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

In all conscience, I think the world would be an infinitely poorer place if we only taught the books we were told to teach.

Another teacher, and School Improvement Officer told us,

Is this equivalent to Farenheit 451? This kind of central curriculum control continues to undermine our professionalism and is an insidious form of censorship. It is an attempt to control those with limited parental engagement with school, denying them access to rich and challengIng world heritage; and thus the ability to question right wing politics.

In a response, the Department for education told a Sky News reporter,

“In the past, English Literature GCSEs were not rigorous enough and their content was often far too narrow. We published the new subject content for English Literature in December.

“It doesn’t ban any authors, books or genres. It does ensure pupils will learn about a wide range of literature, including at least one Shakespeare play, a 19th century novel written anywhere and post-1914 fiction or drama written in the British Isles.

“That is only the minimum pupils will be expected to learn. It is now up to exam boards to design new GCSEs, which must then be accredited by the independent exams regulator Ofqual.”

You can read the story here.



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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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