Gove and his British Education Obsession

Twitter this morning, woke up to the news that American texts that have often been studied at GCSE have now been removed, of particular note were To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible. I had known this news for a few days but did not think it would become official knowledge until tomorrow.

Anyway, outrage ensued. Then up popped a Tory Councillor with his out of touch notions of students reading widely themselves, entering the library and soaking up all there is to offer. He also insinuated that some of us may not have bothered to read the DFE guidelines or understand the term “minimum” or “banned”.

At no point have I stated that Gove has “banned” American literature outright. What he has done, is ban it from being an examined text. Of course, young people can go and read such texts for themselves, of course teachers will encourage their students to do so, but this attitude fails to take into consideration so many aspects of our society.

For those who have not had information from their exam boards yet, you will be unaware that English Language and English Literature exams will total 7 and a half hours of examination alone. Maths will be 4 hours. Every subject will have to be a minimum of 3.5 hours when the new GCSEs come in across the curriculum (current Year 7). I’m assuming if a student does the three separate sciences, that will mean a minimum of 10.5 hours for those. Students will for weeks on end, be in long exams from the beginning of the day, until the end.

I can’t speak for other subjects but I know for English there is a huge amount of content to be covered before you even begin revision and rote learning of quotes. Take one of the nineteenth century novels that has to be known in its entirety. Students reading aloud takes much longer than you or I sitting down and reading it. You also need to stop and explore issues, ask questions etc. It always takes longer than you think it will. It will takes weeks and weeks to read through the text alone. Shakespeare was made for performing, not for sitting at a desk and reading. Again, you can not comprehend how long it takes to act out the play in class. Then there is another modern text too, oh and the cluster of 12 poems, all of which will need quotes learnt off by heart. If you still think, easy, plenty of time, there is a whole other GCSE that needs to be fitted into the time as well.

All the schools that the exam board representative had been to, stated the same: they would have to begin in year 9, probably after Christmas. By the way, this is the current year 8, which means schools only see the draft proposals tomorrow and will have to begin teaching it in January. There has been no time to effectively prepare or build the skills required during key stage 3.

All of a sudden, minimum seems to actually be maximum, particularly as it will now eat into key stage 3, where there is more freedom. We have recently developed a broader KS3 which is more challenging with thematic units so a range of texts can be looked at but now this will be reduced. The “minimum” is reducing what is on offer earlier in school life.

This brings me onto “banned”. With all the exam preparations and struggle to fit everything in, reading for pleasure will take a back seat even for those keen readers. So if they are not given this for their exam, they are unlikely to be indulging in world literature at all. Effectively “banned”.

There is no doubt that there is some brilliant British literature that deserves attention, however this does not need to be at the exclusion of everything else. Why is it not also a “minimum” expectation to have read one text from another country or culture? Why would this mean British literature was being ignored? Why should a text that is second rate in comparison to say To Kill a Mockingbird be on the spec just because it is British? Of Mice and Men may have run its course but where is the text that explores issues such as treatment of women, segregation, disabilities and poverty as well as this novella? Are these not important topics for our young people?

Furthermore, the government has decided to change the texts with no funding for schools to buy the new ones. Apparently this should come from the school budget; the school budget that Tories decided to change meaning a school with under 1000 pupils loses out and is now trying to manage deficits. A budget that has already resulted in redundancies and contracts not being renewed. For some schools it might not be a problem, or they can rely on well off parents purchasing the texts for their students but for all, this is not the case. Hardly the free education for all.

It seems to me that Gove again wishes to ignore the multi cultural society in which we live. He does not want a magnifying glass held to the misogynistic, white, middle class society in which he revels and wishes to push forward. It seems to me that Gove wants to teach our young people that unless you are privileged across class, gender and race, you are to be ignored.

You will fail, Mr Gove. Not one teacher will allow this to happen.

Oh and for the Tory councillor who criticised me for not wanting to “see” things his way, you only have yourself to blame for that. Your council has put the lives of women at risk. You have cut the provision for women’s refuge in the area. I have no time for anyone who sees women’s lives as something to be played with or who sees Britain as the be all and end all. We have yet to learn our shame.

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