Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 26 May 2014

Michael Gove takes a Hatchet to the English Curriculum

I wanted to write about Mr Gove and the damage he is doing to the GCSE English curriculum. I am incandescent. I am also very, very busy writing a novel, ironically enough.

Then I saw this, and realised that a thirteen year old young woman has said it all. I have simply lifted her entire text from her blog. This is Charli in her own words, unedited. Read it and weep:

Today, some of you may have heard of Mr. Gove's changes to the English GCSE and A-Level curriculum. Now, I am going to write an open letter to Sir, keeping it as polite as humanly possibly, because I have had enough. 

Dear Mr. Gove,

My name is Charli and I am 13 years old. I have been blogging about politics and law for nearly a year, particularly in the Save UK Justice campaign, against your good friend Mr. Grayling. I woke up this morning to an uproar about your changes to the English Curriculum.

Personally, I am disgusted about your new curriculum changes. I can imagine that there has been no democracy to this decision. Why should To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most influential texts in the world, and Of Mice and Men, be removed from our curriculum?

In September, I will be in Year 9. That means I won't be starting my actual GCSE course, but in preparation to do so. I am an aspiring lawyer, and so both English Literature and English Language A-Levels were a possibility to me. Now, I am not so sure.

English has always been a passion to me. I have adored both reading and writing since the age of two. And now? Now, you are out to destroy that passion, of thousands. Yes, there are a lot of teenagers that don't give one about English, or their education, but some of us do.

I, as much as you, believe Shakespeare and Dickens should be studied. But I, apparently unlike you, believe other texts should be studied too. 

"The Sunday Times" Article today,
which has blown up on Twitter. 

 I want to draw attention to a certain part of this article (right). " 'Of Mice and Men, which Gove really dislikes, will not be included.' ". 

From the article, this is the phrase that may have shocked me the most. You "really dislike" it? I'm sorry, Sir, but you cannot just go around removing things from a curriculum just because you don't like it. If I was education minister and this was how you go about things, I'd be removing maths and science. But that isn't how it works, I'm afraid. 

Another thing I'd like to pick up on is the fact that this "new and improved" curriculum only includes English authors. Not even Irish! The Government want us all to be more tolerant about other races, and then increases the fact that many children are not educated on other cultures. Personally, I grew up on books like Handa's Surprise and many others, and I love reading other books, and books from America. Are you going to change the fact that reception children read Handa's Surprise and do work on it? I can imagine it now. 

As a Government, in this one decision, you are turning around all the things you want. You want us to be more tolerant as a society, and what was that other thing? Oh yes... Better results in English. I don't think boring us to absolute tears is the way to do this.

The Colour Purple, which wasn't on the curriculum but deserves a mention, is one of my favourites. I have previously attempted To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. I didn't understand them then, but I guarantee over my summer holiday this year they will be on my (extremely tall) reading pile, studied and written about in depth by me. Why? Because I want to learn. I want to learn about what these books have to give. About our society.  

Today, #tokillamockingbird, #Gove and Of Mice and Men are all trending topics. #Govekillsmockingbird is also high up. People do care. This will not go unnoticed, Sir.  

I could go on for hours, also talking about your changes in general GCSE's and summer holidays, but I won't, right now. All I will say, is I would watch your back. And your post box. 

I don't suppose you will ever read this, but if you do, thank you very much.

Charli, age 13, 
Justice campaigner who is very concerned for her education and future,
Lover of English


  1. Great post. Sums up the feelings of millions...

  2. This reply from Alex appeared on my FaceBook page. Thanks Alex.

    My memory of To Kill A Mockingbird at school is that it was the first 'official' book on the syllabus that I absolutely couldn't put down. It taught me that 'classic literature' could be readable and entertaining. I did hate everything by John Steinbeck though, just because they were all so miserable. But again, very readable despite that.

    I think the Gove syllabus is horrific. It's the sort of syllabus that put me off doing English beyond the compulsory GCSE even though it was one of the subjects I was really good at.

  3. The Telegraph reports:
    Michael Gove has hit out at the "culture warriors" he says have falsely accused him of banning American novels including To Kill a Mockingbird from English literature GCSE courses.

    It was reported that classic US texts such as Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck and The Crucible by Arthur Miller will be excluded from the UK syllabus in favour of works by British writers.

    Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Gove says that the claims are "rooted in fiction" and that teachers will still be free to teach American novels in the classroom.

    "I have not banned anything," Mr Gove writes. "Nor has anyone else. Teachers are as free to introduce children to the brilliant writing of Lee, Steinbeck and Miller today as they were yesterday and nothing this government is doing will change that in the future.

    "All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden - not narrow - the books young people study for GCSE."

    Paul Dodd, from OCR, one of the biggest UK exam boards, claimed that Mr Gove's personal literature preferences had influenced policy decisions.

    "Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included," he told a newspaper. "It was studied by 90 per cent of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past. Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic."

    Mr Gove adds: "Do I think Of Mice And Men, Lord Of The Flies and To Kill A Mockingbird are bad books? Of course not. I read and loved them all as a child. And I want children in the future to be able to read them all.

    "But sometimes a rogue meme can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on."

    A host of academics criticised Mr Gove following the reports about the English syllabus.

    Authors and academics criticised Mr Gove following the reports. Sam West, the actor and director, said that children would now be kept away from books that have "moved and inspired" young people "because their authors aren't British".

    However, Mr Gove writes: "Last year the Department for Education set out new requirements around which exam boards would frame their specifications.

    "The new subject content for all GCSEs is broader and deeper than before - reflecting a higher level of ambition for children.

    "In English literature we emphasised that students must read a wide range of texts. We also set out a minimum core that had to be covered - specifically a whole Shakespeare play, poetry from 1789 including the romantics , a 19th-century novel, and some fiction or drama written in the British Isles since 1914.

    "Beyond this exam boards have the freedom to design specifications so that they are stretching and interesting, and include any number of other texts from which teachers can then choose."

    He says that teachers had welcomed a "specification that allows for Keats and Heaney, Shakespeare and Miller, the Brontes and Pinter".

    The Education Secretary says that the critics from exam boards who have accused him of "hating" Of Mice And Men have never met him to discuss his reading preferences.

    "I would have thought that making an assertion unsupported by evidence is the sort of thing exam boards would want to discourage," he adds.

    "But in any case, there are four exam boards which can offer GCSE English literature and there are no rules either requiring them to exclude or marginalise any writer - if they wish to include Steinbeck - whether it's Of Mice And Men or The Grapes Of Wrath no one would be more delighted than me."