English GCSE row intensifies

Following the announcement that American novels will no longer be part of GCSE English literature, books from Australia, New Zealand and Nigeria are being axed too.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, African-American writer Maya Angelou’s autobiography, is just one of a clutch of classics that have fallen prey to the government’s controversial reforms of GCSEs.

Last week OCR revealed that John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men had been axed from its new GCSE English Literature syllabus. Now AQA has announced that novels from a range of foreign authors will not be taught from September 2015, The Independent reports.

The novels that have been dropped include:

  • To Kill a Mocking Bird by American Harper Lee
  • A Purple Hibiscus by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Mister Pip by New Zealand’s Lloyd Jones
  • Rabbit Proof Fence by Australian Doris Pilkington.


Michael Gove has denied that the DfE has put pressure on exam boards to ban foreign authors from the new syllabus and that it is up to exam boards to decide which set books should be included, subject to the government’s minimum requirements. “GCSE specifications are only a starting point. Parents will rightly expect their children to read more than four pieces of literature over two years of studying for their GCSEs. It is important that pupils read widely, as they will in future be tested on two unseen texts which can be by authors outside of the exam board specification,” a DfE spokesman said. However, exam board AQA said that it would be impossible to include additional texts beyond the government’s minimum requirements without placing “an unacceptable assessment burden” on schools.

Do you think it matters that all these major novels from international authors are being dropped? Is it right that the new syllabus places greater emphasis on British works?

5 thoughts on “English GCSE row intensifies

  1. I think that this is absolutely scandalous and is a terrible step backward considering the global, interconnected world we now live in in which Asia, Africa, and the Pacific are all advancing and becoming more developed and important. And the USA also has many great authors and a great history!

    In my high school in Georgia in the USA, we high school students had separate one-year courses in British and American literature. Each course came with a textbook (varied according to state) which includes short selections from over 100 writers. And in Sri Lanka, I gave tuition to students for a very high standard O-level syllabus with around 25 poems, 5 short stories, 2 dramas, and 4 essays/nonfiction works. Students were required to do two novels in addition to this, from a list selected with choices from Sri Lankan, British, American, and Indian writers.

    So it sounds like standards in the UK are really, really going down and maybe falling prey to racism and nationalism also?

  2. Next they’ll be saying that foreign teachers can’t teach English in English schools. This is so narrow minded and reflects the problem with the education system here. Children in England’s schools already know so little of the world beyond Europe. It is shameful to say the least. Learning is narrow and compartmentalised which is the reason for generally declining standards in education. No system in a global setting can serve it’s students well by constantly contracting what the education system provides for them.

  3. Great news that foreign books with an undercurrent of social or racial differences are being removed from the GCSE syllabus. “English Literature must be centred upon writing, par excellence, and not be underpinned by racial or political themes. Themes such as these, have no place in the study of English literature.

  4. Whilst I appreciate the value of having studied some of Britain’s greatest works of literature, would we expect an American School to ban the study of Shakespeare, John Donne and Brontë, or an African School to stop including Austen, Stephenson or Orwell? Should a French school retaliate by banning Dickens if we don’t study Alexander Dumas or Jules Verne?

    We need to study a diversity of literature, from a wide cultural, philosophical and geographical background.

    What if in Chemistry we only studied the elements discovered by British scientists, or in Geography only the countries that British explorers travelled to?

    We need the rainbow, not just one part of it; as a teacher of Religious Studies I wonder how we would manage if we only learned about religions which had their beginnings in Britain?

    Our schools are a community in which our children are expected to learn in a cross-curricular manner. Removal of books because of the nationality of their author seems foolish and short-sighted if we want our future politicians, business people, religious leaders, nurses, doctors, armed forces – our next generation – to be able to communicate at a level which allows for equality and tolerance without prejudice.

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