UK Education Secretary Michael Gove is not the most popular man, or even minister, in Britain. Indeed, some openly revile him. But there is still some doubt as to whether he really is guilty of trying to remove some U.S. literary classics from the GCSE English literature syllabus, as the Sunday Times claimed, declaring that: “classic works such as To Kill A Mockingbird are being dropped from English GCSEs because Michael Gove, the education secretary, wants teenagers to focus on works by British writers, it emerged yesterday. As well as the Harper Lee novel, American texts including Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck will be excluded. A spokesman for the OCR exam board said that Mr Gove ‘really dislikes’ the Steinbeck novella.”
Reaction was immediate and virulently hostile. And I take great pleasure in linking to The Guardian for further coverage of the original article, since the Sunday Times has paywalled it, but it quoted Paul Dodd of the OCR exam board, who pointed to Gove’s own tastes as dictating the decisions.
Gove promptly took to print himself to rebut the original accusations. “I have not banned anything. Nor has anyone else,” he declared in the Daily Telegraph. “All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden – not narrow – the books young people study for GCSE.” And, he continued, “there are, in reality, four exam boards that can offer GCSE English literature and there are no rules requiring them to exclude or marginalise any writer.”
Who gave the true version of events? Effectively, a minister and a senior educationalist have now given statements that directly contradict each other. Unfortunately for Gove, though, what is beyond doubt is the lack of public confidence in him. The original Sunday Times report was all too consistent with his previous advocacy of a core British history curriculum that projected a national story.
“Retweet if you think Gove is the worst education secretary we have ever had,” Tweeted author Matt Haig. Probably even more agree now.