I’m supposed to be blogging about my lovely country weekend of Spring Fayres, Scarecrows and Geocaching (which I will do) but instead I am in need of a vent.
Just before I headed to WordPress I checked in with Facebook to see what people had been up to in their worlds today. Alongside my news feed of same old, Race For Life and Warhammer stuffs, I spotted something which made my blood, not quite but almost, literally, boil. You see, according to FB, one of the top three articles trending is one about that genius Gove’s new curriculum plans.
Now, followers of my blog will remember that over a year and a half ago, I left the teaching profession for a number of reasons (further listed here, in case you missed it), the main one being the fact I’d lost faith in the profession. This loss of faith started about 4ish years ago and has one defining factor, Gove. This is something I know I am not alone in. Year after year I have seen open letters, scathing status updates and more and more teachers turning their back on the profession they once loved. Admittedly teaching has hooked me back in since, but I am still doubtful.
According to The Independent article I read (there are others, all corroborating the first) Gove has decided to strike classics such as Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird off the new curriculum. A spokesperson from OCR said “Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included.” Really dislikes?! Not being funny but that’s hardly a reason. I’d understand if Gove had made this decision because, perhaps, evidence showed that students were not performing as well on these texts compared to others, or that studies had shown that students found contemporary British authors more relevant and relatable, thereby generating a greater interest in the subject for post-16 qualifications. Not because he doesn’t like it. I’ve taught Of Mice and Men ad nauseam but would still choose it over a number of other texts because it is one that students consistently do well on and because it teaches them more than just how to read for meaning.
This whole thing strikes me as yet another knee jerk decision from a man so out of touch with the profession he is legislating for. Firstly, having worked in a number of Secondary schools I find myself wondering where the money is going to come from to replace those texts? Year after year I remember discussions about what texts we’d like to teach at GCSE, only to find we had no money to purchase new texts and therefore it would be Of Mice and Men again. Schools that have made the move to academies are no better off, in some cases they have access to even less money. Now schools will have to make cuts elsewhere to fund the purchase of hundreds of new books, cuts that will likely have to come from enrichment, because it sure as hell won’t come out of the stationery budget. Where would the students write all those lovely notes about their new GCSE texts if it did?
Secondly I find myself grateful I am no longer an English teacher. Yeah I have my own worries about the dangers of teaching a ‘soft’ subject. According to my dad, yet again Media Studies is on the list of subjects that ought to be dropped as GCSEs (I’m not even thinking about how angry that makes me, at the moment, because one person can only handle so much rage) but at least I still have the freedom to pick topics that engage my students and allow me to play to their strengths. English teachers won’t have that luxury.
I understand the occasional need to introduce new texts into the canon, I really do but I disagree with forced blanket decisions. For years I have marked GCSE papers. Originally, I marked for Edexcel, until I got sick of marking the same texts over and over (and yes OMAM was one of those). Then I moved to AQA and Cambridge. It’s a running joke that I jumped ship so I didn’t have to mark Of Mice and Men and managed to pick another exam board whose schools teach it almost exclusively. Yes, this year out of my allocation of 308 papers, 308 of the section B responses are on Of Mice and Men, but there’s a reason for this; it’s a short text, you can fit it in whilst also trying to teach An Inspector Calls or To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as Paper 1 skills, poetry and everything else teachers have to fit in to that all important final year to ensure their students do the absolute best they can. Incidentally, AQA centres can also choose from Lord of The Flies, The Woman in Black, Martyn Pig (by Kevin Brooks, just finished it, rather good) and Under Milk Wood to name but a few. Currently the GCSE curriculum is rich and diverse, Rabbit Proof Fence sits alongside The Crucible as further AQA text options but if we limit it to English (not even British) authors it will stagnate.
As teachers we try to teach our students about tolerance and acceptance, how are we going to manage that if the curriculum sends out the message it’s only good enough if it’s English? Sure national pride is a good thing, but not like this.