Thursday, 29 May 2014

Changing Subject

I have never written politically before.  I don't really hold strong political views, and while I vote almost every time there's an election, I don't consider myself strongly affiliated with any political party.

However, the recent statement by the Secretary of State for Eduction, Rt Hon Michael Gove, has really irritated me.  He has said that he wants to reduce the range of books and literature that is studied in high schools, so that pupils will only study British authors - Shakespeare and Austen, for example.  Academics and teachers have drawn particular attention to the axing of "To Kill A Mockingbird" (which I haven't studied) since it was written by an American author.

Current Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove
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This has particular resonance for me since I'm married to an English teacher, and she was annoyed by this decision. I'm not particularly interested in English Literature - I passed my exam when I was 16, and that's it.  Yes, I read - fiction and non-fiction alike - but only because I enjoy occasional reading, not because I studied literature in depth.

Quoting from the Independent newspaper's website, where they quote the Department for Education:

"In the past, English literature GCSEs were not rigorous enough and their content was often far too narrow. We published the new subject content for English literature in December."

Does anybody else find it ironic that they think reducing the scope of the literature to be studied will prevent the GCSE from becoming too narrow?

Aside from that, it occurred to me - what if this is the thin end of the wedge?  What if this British-centredness is to continue throughout all the other subjects?  What might they look like?  As I said, I have no personal specific interest in English Literature, but I wonder if Mr Gove has plans for the rest of the syllabus.  Could you imagine the way the DfE would share his latest ideas?  Highlighting how strange his decision on English Literature is, here is a view of how other subjects could be affected.

The New 'British' GCSE Syllabus


Only the chemical elements that have been discovered by British scientists will be studied.  Oxygen, hydrogen, barium, tungsten and chlorine are all out, having been discovered by the Swede Carl Wilhelm Scheele, even though other scientists published their findings first.  Scottish scientist William Ramsay discovered the noble gases, so they can stay in the syllabus, and so can most of the Group 1 and 2 metals, which were isolated by Sir Humphry Davy.  Lead, iron, gold and silver are all out, since they were discovered before British scientists were able to identify and isolate them.  And this brings me to the next subject:


Only historical events pertaining to the UK are to be included in the new syllabus.  The American Civil War is to be removed.  The First World War I is to be reduced to a chapter, and the Second World War to a paragraph, with much more emphasis to be given to the Home Front. 


Only plants and animals which are native to the UK are to be studied, because previously, science "GCSEs were not rigorous enough and their content was often far too narrow." All medicine which can be attributed to Hippocrates is out.  Penicillin (Alexander Fleming) to stay in.


Fibonacci - out.  da Vinci - out.  Most geometry (Pythagoras, Euclid) - out.  Calculus to focus exclusively on Newton, and all mention of Liebniz is to be removed.  In order to aid integration with Europe, emphasis must shared between British imperial measurements and the more modern metrics which our European colleagues use.


Astronomy to be taught with the earth-centric model, since the heliocentric view of the Earth going around the Sun was devised by an Italian, Galilei Galileo.  The Moon landing (American) is out.  The Higgs Boson can stay, although its discovery in Switzerland is a border-line case.  Gravity, having been explained by Isaac Newton, can stay in.

Foreign Languages

By their very nature, foreign languages are not British, and their study will probably not be rigorous enough, with content that's far too narrow.  However, in order to aid integration with our European business colleagues and government, foreign languages are to be kept.  However, this is to be limited to relevant business and economic vocabulary, and more time is to be spent learning the history of the English language instead.  Preferably by rote.


In a move which follows Mr Gove's moves towards a 1940s syllabus, economics will now focus on pounds, shilling and pence. Extra maths lessons will be given to explain how the pre-decimalised system works.  The modern pounds and pence system is to be studied, but only to enable pupils to understand how European exchange rates work. 

Changes are not planned for 'easier' GCSEs like Media Studies; Leisure and Tourism; Hospitality or Health and Social Care, since they're being axed anyway.

So, having made a few minor tweaks to the syllabus, we now have one which Mr Gove would approve of, and which would probably be viewed by the DfE as more rigorous and less narrow.  Frightening, isn't it?

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