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GCSE English Literature | A Call for Diversity on the Curriculum

NOTE: Although this post references the English Lit syllabus as a whole, I have not researched fully into the poetry and short stories lists so cannot comment on these.

I really enjoy studying English Literature at GCSE – many people detest dissecting fiction and digging for deeper meanings – but more often than not, I actually find it quite interesting.

I’m in year eleven and the two books I’m studying are Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls (the only other pieces of literature I have studied at GCSE are two Shakespeare plays). I enjoy the books outside of the classroom – I think they’re important, touch on interesting themes, and are unforgettable.

However, recently I started thinking about what I would have loved to study, alternatively, at GCSE. Out of curiosity, I checked out all of the prose and drama books on the syllabus on the BBC Bitesize website and made a list of the writers currently on the curriculum.

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These stats are quite sad. And the curriculum is subject to change for the next exam series, but it is in fact reducing the amount of foreign literature.

I know that the literary works on the syllabus are all there for very valid reasons – many are life-changing, controversial and important books to talk about. Of the ones I’ve have read, they’re fantastic – take An Inspector Calls, which might well be my favourite 20th Century work.

However, the diversity is really lacking. For example – schools in England and Wales couldn’t even talk about LGBT* books until 2003, when Section 28, barring ‘positive portrayal’ of homosexuality, was repealed. Sadly, it’s clear that the English curriculum hasn’t made huge steps to become more inclusive after this.

There are so many books that could make the syllabus better. I know that most teenagers in my school and others dislike studying English Lit. Would the enjoyment and engagement in the classroom not be improved if we changed it up a bit?

How fantastic would it be to see some modern YA fiction? More books by PoC and LGBT* authors – and/or books with these minority characters as protagonists? Most works on the curriculum, although yes, incredibly important books and plays, all fall into very similar categories in that they are largely 20th Century / Shakespeare / written by people of similar backgrounds.

I talked to some friends in my English class about what they thought, and everyone seems to share the same opinion: if we had a more diverse range of books, students would be more interested in the classroom. Having a wider range of fiction available to study could make a huge impact. Everybody knows that representation of different groups of people can get more students interested in reading, as people can relate to and resonate with writers and stories – which can encourage people to enjoy literature outside of the classroom and later in life. And, at least in my school, I’m aware that people would like to study more books from recent years.

Isn’t it time we looked at some books that would be awesome in classrooms?

I took to Twitter and asked for suggestions. Here’s the fantastic responses! (The picture below is hyperlinked to my original tweet, in case people have replied after I put these together)

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(yes i like drop shadows fight me)

Of the ones suggested that’s I’ve read, I 100% agree. I think if I had the power to put any book on the curriculum, I would choose Lies We tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. Lies We Tell Ourselves is a stunning, conversation-starting book about race and sexuality in the 1950’s, which would be fantastic to write about and discuss in class.

I would love to know your opinion on the English Curriculum, as I think it’s a topic worth discussing more. Do leave a comment, or contribute on Twitter!

Thanks to Ellen for providing feedback and some facts about Section 28.

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4 thoughts on “GCSE English Literature | A Call for Diversity on the Curriculum

  1. hi! dropping by from Singapore -found your blog through the guardian website. thanks for the very interesting post, there seems to be quite a lot of “classics” in the syllabus and I agree with you that maybe a bit more “contemporary” works would do some good. we do a different syllabus in singapore, you guys have way more choices than we do! 🙂

    1. Hello, thanks for the really interesting comment – I had no idea people in Singapore read this blog! I think it’s really interesting to see how different countries teach books. I should definitely have a look into that. 🙂 Thank you for the comment!

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