30 May '14

News GCSE English literature row: Don't blame Gove, blame me

I was part of the board of experts who recommended that government broaden what has been a very narrow English literature syllabusNews: Maya Angelou and John Steinbeck dropped from GCSE syllabusesNo doubt to the dismay of the Twittersphere, I have to report that the idea that our teenagers should be asked to read a few older works of English literature before the statutory school-leaving age was mine, not Michael Gove's. When the GCSE reforms were being considered, the Department for Education called in an advisory group of teachers, examiners and other stakeholders. I was there in my twin capacity as a university teacher and an active player in the educational work of the Royal Shakespeare Company.I have teenagers of my own, I visit schools and I meet prospective university students from very diverse backgrounds. In recent years, I have been increasingly alarmed at how many of them have not read a single work of English literature written before 1900, apart from Shakespeare. I've also found it depressing how often teenagers have said to me that their main GCSE set text was John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, which they found tedious, undeveloped, overly schematic and all too easy to reduce to a set of themes instead of a literary experience. In short, an insufficiently demanding book. Continue reading...

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