current affairs

Has Michael Gove really killed the mockingbird?

Much has been written recently concerning exactly what’s going on with the new GCSE syllabus and whether classic books like To Kill a Mockingbird have been axed from the new curricul

Much has been written recently concerning exactly what’s going on with the new GCSE syllabus and whether classic books like To Kill a Mockingbird have been axed from the new curriculum. There were people tweeting (the irony that Twitter’s icon is a bird was almost too much for me to handle) about the outrageous changes that have been made and yet the Department of Education have said they are not banning anything.

What exactly is going on? Is the mockingbird dead or not?

The Department of Education clarified: “It [the new subject content] 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.”

Burden on teachers and students

It seems that exam boards and schools themselves can add extra books into the syllabus but they must adhere to the books that are prescribed as the bare minimum. However, the new rules have not left much room for that and AQA has admitted that “technically it would not be impossible to add additional texts beyond the essential requirements, to do so would place an unacceptable assessment burden on teachers and students.”

So the mockingbird has been killed because it is no longer required on the new syllabus and has been scrapped in favour of Shakespeare and British fiction. But the possibility of students to venture outside these prescribed texts at school now seems unlikely – when has an English teacher ever taught you about a novel that isn’t on the syllabus because you have too much time?

It hasn’t been expressly axed from the syllabus – technically teachers can add in other books – but it’s been impliedly cut. Having studied Harper Lee’s classic myself, I am at a loss to understand why the curriculum will no longer include such a rich and compelling novel that is now one of my favourite books.

Books that do not have to be studied (as well as To Kill a Mockingbird) include Of Mice and Men and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. These books have been discarded in favour of a more nationally focused syllabus yet this makes no sense and cannot quite be justified.

A cultural deficit

Why must the focus be on British literature? Will we be shunning anything else that isn’t British? What about other countries? Will pizza be banned? Will we have to shun all products that say Made in China (good luck with that!)?  

Gove has expressed that the majority of students study the same book, Of Mice and Men, and do not know the book as a whole but only parts that they learn for the exam. Yet, this has been rejected in favour of books by Dickens and Austen, amongst others.

If students aren’t motivated by Steinbeck’s one hundred and something page novel, how will they be encouraged to read more when having to study novels such as Great Expectations or Jane Eyre which are much longer and arguably harder to get to grips with?

Dissatisfaction with the current syllabus has been explained by the Department of Education as being the reason for the overhaul. It may be so, but if it is, the answer does not lie in changing the curriculum to focus on British works. The change put forward simply isn’t necessary, the curriculum can be improved whilst also retaining its international flavour.

Beyond the classroom is a world which is truly international – globalisation due to technology advances has grown massively and we are proud to refer to Britain as a multicultural society. Therefore, it makes sense that the national curriculum reflects this. A wide variety of genres is required to gain an insight into the many different ways of life and culture that the world is comprised of.

There can be no doubt that our society is cosmopolitan and variety is the spice of life. So shouldn’t the books we read be varied too?

What do you think of the policy? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: Policy Exchange / Flickr