Meera supplants Milton in revamp of school reading list

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The Independent Online

A new generation of writers has usurped some of literature's most venerable ancients as part of a revamp of the recommended reading lists for schools.

A review of what should be taught to 11 to 14-year-olds has added household names like Alan Bennett, Carol Ann Duffy, Alan Garner and Philip Pullman to the list of recommended writers to be studied.

Their arrival is at the expense of, among others, John Milton, Lord Byron and James Joyce - although their works will still be on the timetable for older pupils studying for GCSEs and A-levels.

In addition, the curriculum planners have for the first time come up with a list of writers from other cultures to help give pupils a better insight into the world.

This includes Meera Syal, the writer and performer who appeared in the TV comedy, Goodness Gracious Me, Benjamin Zephaniah, Athol Fugard and Maya Angelou.

Yesterday, at the launch of the proposed curriculum, Sir Alan Greener, chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the guardian of the national curriculum - made it clear the new timetable was drawn up to meet the needs of the 21st century. "The curriculum must respond to these changes," he added.

The list of contemporary authors has been compiled because "pupils should be encouraged to experiment with new texts - particularly in their own reading", the review document said.

The geography guidelines have also been redrafted to give more weight to issues like climate change while "economically useful" languages, such as Mandarin and Urdu, have been added to the list of languages . The history of slavery will also be taught to give pupils an understanding of the country's ethnic history.

The new modern curriculum will have three themes at its heart - creating successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.

For the first time, there will be a greater emphasis on learning outside the school environment.

Pupils could, for instance, be given the right to attend at least two theatre performances - one of them a Shakespeare play - during their first three years of compulsory schooling.

Another suggested exercise is that they should build a bird hide - this could combine design and technology, maths, geography and science all in one project.

A third option being considered is to send pupils on an unaccompanied 50-mile journey to develop their self-confidence. Pupils could also be encouraged to complete a different dissertation every half-term, allowing them to develop deeper knowledge of six different curriculum areas in the course of the year.

Personal and Social Health Education lessons will include economic education to help them understand the concept of economic well-being.

Lessons will change from a strict subject-by-subject timetable to allow teachers to develop cross-curricular themes. Schools could devote whole mornings to one lesson - as happens in Montessori and Steiner schools, some of which are now receiving state support.

Not everything will change, though. As Mick Waters, the director of curriculum at the QCA, put it: "Anne Boleyn will still be beheaded, the battle of Trafalgar will still have taken place in 1805, the Pennines will still remain the backbone of England, Romeo will still love Juliet, litmus paper will still turn red in acid, copper will still be a great conductor and music will still be the food of love."

The proposals will go out for consultation until the end of April and, if accepted, introduced in 2008.

Recommended reading lists for schools

On the list:

Meera Syal

Benjamin Zephaniah

Athol Fugard

Maya Angelou

Alan Bennett

Carol Ann Duffy

Alan Garner

Philip Pullman

Off the list:

John Milton

Lord Byron

James Joyce