Gove attacked over syllabus changes

Education Secretary Michael Gove faced a backlash after it emerged that popular American classics To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men are to be dropped from the GSCE syllabus.

The syllabus changes were linked to Education Secretary Michael Gove's personal taste
The syllabus changes were linked to Education Secretary Michael Gove's personal taste

Academics and writers reacted angrily to news that OCR, one of the country's largest exam boards, has left the popular Harper Lee and John Steinbeck novels and Arthur Miller's play The Crucible off its draft English Literature syllabus.

Edexcel, another leading exam board, is also reportedly expected to exclude Steinbeck's 1937 novella and Lee's Pulitzer-winning work about racial inequality in America's Deep South.

Paul Dodd, OCR's head of GCSE and A-Level reform, directly linked the move to Mr Gove's personal taste, claiming that the Secretary of State "really dislikes" Of Mice and Men.

It comes after the Department for Education (DfE) published new subject content for English literature in December, but a spokesman for the department said that the more "rigorous" list does not ban "authors, books or genres".

"Mockingbird" trended after the story went viral on Twitter, with Mark Gatiss, who has written for and acted in Dr Who and Sherlock, tweeting: "Since when was the wretched Michael Gove allowed to dictate what children read? This man is a dangerous philistine.

"Of course these books haven't been 'banned' & children can read what they like but having diversity on the syllabus opens up a new world."

Bethan Marshall, a senior lecturer in English at King's College London and chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "Many teenagers will think that being made to read Dickens aged 16 is just tedious. This will just grind children down.

"It's a syllabus out of the 1940s and rumour has it Michael Gove, who read literature, designed it himself."

Mr Dodd told the Sunday Times newspaper: "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."

Meanwhile, Labour described the move as "ideological" and "backward-looking".

A spokeswoman for the party said: "True to form Michael Gove is putting his own ideological interests ahead of the interests of our children.

"His vision is backward-looking and preventing the rich, broad and balanced curriculum we need in our schools if our children are to succeed in the future economy."

The new subject content published in December includes at least one play by William Shakespeare, work by the Romantic poets, a 19th Century novel, poetry since 1850 and a 20th Century novel or drama.

A DfE spokesman said: "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."

Mr Dodd said that Of Mice And Men and To Kill A Mockingbird would be replaced by the likes of Japanese-born British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

"We believe that our new GCSE English literature syllabus will inspire teachers and students alike," he said.

"While the restrictions mean that there is no room for texts such as Of Mice And Men or To Kill A Mockingbird, the new syllabus does include exciting additions such as the play DNA by Dennis Kelly and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, both appearing for the first time.

"We understand, of course, that the new syllabus will be a challenge for teachers preparing students from this September, but we will be with them every step of the way.",