Exam board 'drops' Mockingbird and Steinbeck after Gove reforms

To Kill A Mockingbird cover

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To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men are among the US literary classics dropped by a GCSE exam board after education secretary Michael Gove called for more British works to be studied.

Neither book is on OCR's draft GCSE English Literature syllabus in England.

It has also decided to leave out Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

The Department for Education said its document about new content for the subject published in December "doesn't ban any authors, books or genres".

Labour said the changes were "ideological" and "backward-looking".

'Particular dislike'

The new GCSE course content will include at least one play by William Shakespeare, a selection of work by the Romantic poets, a 19th Century novel, a selection of poetry since 1850 and a 20th Century novel or drama.

OCR said the decision to drop the works by the US authors was because of the DfE's desire for the exam to be more "more focused on tradition" and there were fewer opportunities to include them in the new syllabus.

Announcing his reforms last year, Mr Gove also said the new exam questions would be more rigorous and designed to ensure that pupils had read the whole book.

Meera Syal Students might study a novel by actress Meera Syal

Mr Gove, who studied English at Oxford University, has in the past highlighted his concern that pupils were reading Of Mice and Men in particular.

Paul Dodd, OCR's head of GCSE and A-Level reform, said Mr Gove "had a particular dislike for Of Mice and Men and was disappointed that more than 90% of candidates were studying it".

Steinbeck's six-chapter novella written in 1937 about displaced ranch workers during the Great Depression and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird have become a mainstay of GCSE exams.

Some academics have pointed out the reason schools opt to study the works is that they are accessible to students across a range of abilities.

But OCR and the other exam boards have had to follow new DfE guidelines when drawing up their syllabuses for teaching from 2015.

Start Quote

In the past, English Literature GCSEs were not rigorous enough and their content was often far too narrow”

End Quote Department of Education

OCR's draft syllabus is about to be presented to exams regulator Ofqual for accreditation.

About three-quarters of the books on it are from the "canon of English literature" and most are pre-20th Century.

Pupils will still be able to study modern work by British authors.

Anita and Me, Meera Syal's 1996 story of a British Punjabi girl in the Midlands, and Dennis Kelly's 2007 play about bullying, DNA, are understood to be among the most recent works included in the draft syllabus.

Dizzee Rascal

But a Department of Education spokesperson said: "In the past, English Literature GCSEs were not rigorous enough and their content was often far too narrow.

Start Quote

True to form, Michael Gove is putting his own ideological interests ahead of the interests of our children”

End Quote Labour

"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 was "now up to exam boards to design new GCSEs", the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, a Labour spokesperson 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."

School examinations

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

The announcement from OCR comes after it said earlier this month that sixth-formers taking a new English A-level course it was designing with the English and Media Centre could be asked to study comedian Russell Brand's evidence to a committee of MPs and BBC interviews with musician Dizzee Rascal.

The organisation said the aim of the course was for students to "develop the skills to analyse any text, whether spoken or written, literary or non-literary, in the most appropriate way".

More traditional texts would include Shakespeare, works by George Orwell and 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I have always voted Tory, but I do find Gove a bit silly. Some books UK books are totally overrated and books from the US are just as good.

    In my humble opinion things like the NHS and education are too important to be continually meddled by stupid dogmatic politicians trying to make their pathetic mark.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.


    I am pretty sure that Mr Gove did not remove Stienbeck. The Exam board will have done that.

    My O Levels are now 40 years in the past but even then I found Shakespeare to be a real turn off. The jokes (?!) are opaque by modern standards, the tempo very slow and the fact that it is all beautifully constructed is pretty irrelevant to a fifteen year old.

    I would dump the lot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I really cannot see what all the fuss is about. The UK has an unrivalled collection of authors ancient and modern. Why step outside to study works written in a rather different culture and a somewhat different form of English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Don't totally agree with the ideology behind this, though we have a fine literary heritance and its a shame children aren't more familiar with it. But while I think Steinbeck is a brilliant writer and I have read most of his books, I have always thought 'Of Mice and Men' is not suitable 14 year olds at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the most powerful literary works of the 20th century,both in terms of the issues it addressed and the superb,understated writing style of Harper Lee. Any student will gain more benefit from reading this than anything Russell Brand has to say.Also,I wonder if Mr Gove thinks he could do better than John Steinbeck,because I very much doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.


  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I don't really care what students study as long as it is a good read and well written. I'm sorry to read that some people think Gove is thick, like him or not he went to Oxford, read English, he is no thicko.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Never mind having more pre-20th century works, let's get more 21st century ones in there and help move literature forward. I suppose there is a valid argument for having more British, as opposed to American works, in the group although I think showing the language being used by various sources has an argument as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I don't necessarily agree that there should be a greater focus on British pieces, and To Kill a Mockingbird is fantastic, but I am glad Of Mice and Men is gone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I studied To Kill A Mockingbird for O Level English Literature in the 80s. It remains one of my favourite books still. It is wrong to remove it because it is an 'American' rather than an 'English' classic. It teaches young people about race, justice, innocence, bravery and humility. In the 80s Maggie Thatcher was the milk snatcher. Is Michael Gove going to be the great book basher? Shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    So Mr Gove wants education to 'progress,' and to do that thinks that education needs to move back to the 'halcyon days' of teaching when he was a youngster. Well Mr Gove, if you are an example of what comes out of such an education system, is there really any further debate to be had?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Now, will Robert Tressell's "Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" be included, I wonder?
    Not holding my breath! :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    My son will be delighted as he hated To Kill a Mocking Bird, he enjoyed the GCSE reading list but as much as he loathed To KIll ..he still did both GCSE and A level English literature and gained A* and A in both exams. He did have to read some awful books for A levels though which is perhaps why he read History at Uni. He still loves to read for pleasure but unfortunately he doesn't have much time

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    How ridiculous. Classic works, accessible in our language and dealing with social issues of inequality which are as relevant today as ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I truly, deeply hope that it's not only 'syllabus' books that are read by the young of today - those are the ones they have questions asked on in an exam, I am sure that young readers can find other books, including Amerian literature of the 20th Century to read if it moves them so to do - its equally dictatorial to insist they read the mentioned works. If read at leisure they may be enjoyed more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    It's interesting to talk to Gove's supporters:
    they are convinced he is mending a failed education system - the fact that we have the 6th best in the world is ignored, and noting that he is copying from systems that are falling down the world rankings makes them angry.
    When we have a generation of school leavers who don't read, but decode without comprehension, will they blame the teachers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    "Mr Gove "had a particular dislike for Of Mice and Men and was disappointed that more than 90% of candidates were studying it"."

    Banned because he doesn't like it. No proper reason really then. Shows what a dictatorial must always have his own way control freak he really is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Is this not the kind of socialist, nanny-state meddling that his party hates so much?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    What on earth has Michael Gove got against "Of Mice and Men"? More importantly, why should his personal dislike of that novel be the deciding factor when choosing which books children should study at school? This is sheer madness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Students are sick and tired of reading Shakespeare...It's so cliche and there are more modern and interesting reads out there. Personally, i'd prefer to study Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) as well as Agatha Christie's Poirot... Whilst these are both Crime novels, it will increase the students interest as they could UNDERSTAND it easily


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