GCSEs and Book Choices

Image from The Learning Spy

One of the links in yesterday’s Sunday Surfing was about changes being made to the English GCSE syllabus. More specifically the exclusion of some American texts in favour of British texts.

This has caused quite an uproar. Partly because some of the most famous pieces of American literature have been taken off the syllabus; To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crucible, and Of Mice and Men. Partly because the choice doesn’t seem to be so much based on creating a better course as much as because Michael Gove doesn’t like these books, and thinks more British books should be studied. This article compares Gove to Mr Wormwood (of Matilda) and is well worth a read.

It is not so much the idea of changing the syllabus that I dislike. Whilst these books have a lot to offer, politically, historically, socially and in terms of the study of literature, they are not the only books which can offer this. Plus they have been on the syllabus for a long time, maybe it is time for a change?

As for the way of changing the syllabus I think that it makes a narrow syllabus. Studying only British literature means that the major world view seen through this literature will be British. Reading books from different cultures gives a different world view, and it’s one of the most accessible ways of doing so. If anything the syllabus should be wider. Not just American and British novels but novels from other cultures too. I think Murakami would be a really interesting author to study, for example,  or Rushdie. If the syllabus is to be changed then surely the best way to do so is to give access to a more varied book choice?

I am not saying scrap British texts either, but to give a broader range that simply British. Austen and Dickens have both been mentioned. I did study Dickens at school (just not at GCSE level), and whilst I can appreciate him he isn’t the easiest of writers to read, with, or without, analysis. Austen is easier, however it shows a narrower world view that Dickens. I think it could be a struggle for students. To Kill a Mockingbird, and Of Mice and Men are relatively easy reads, which means more time can be devoted to actually studying them.

I really don’t see why something needs to be taken out for something new to be added. Choice would be so much better, and if students could choose which texts to study themselves then they may well be more engaged in them.

You can sign a petition to re-think the changes here.




Filed under Musings, News

4 responses to “GCSEs and Book Choices

  1. I did think the outrage was misdirected. People were more upset that Mockingbird/Steinbeck were removed than the narrowing of the content. Why can’t more modern texts be included? I know the teachers need to be familiar with the work but maybe they’re tired of the same classics all the time too. New stuff might inspire them.

    When we got to our final year of English (which was certificate of sixth year studies at that time in Scotland), there was a choice of texts to study. We had a small group so we voted on which ones. We studied 3 writers across novels, plays and poetry. Then when we got to the exams, you chose which essay questions you answered based on what you’d studied.


  2. That, I think, would be the ideal way to do it. We had no choice, the teachers had a little, but they chose for us. I can see pupils wanting to work when it’s a text they’ve chosen themselves


  3. I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head here (and made sense of my own thoughts!). It is definitely the narrowing of the syllabus that people should worry about, not what has been removed. I personally didn’t study any of the books that Gove dislikes and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I can very easily get behind an argument for choice. Really interesting post, thank you.


  4. Pingback: Sunday Surfing 1/6/14 | Lucybird's Book Blog

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