Classics of American literature, including Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, have been dropped from the English literature GCSE syllabus following demands reportedly made by Michael Gove.
The Education Secretary said students ought to focus on works by British writers such as Jane Austen and Shakespeare, The Sunday Times reported.
OCR, one the UK’s biggest exam boards, told the newspaper: "Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90 per cent of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past.
"Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic. In the new syllabus 70-80 per cent of the books are from the English canon."
But the reform has been criticised by academics, who have said it will deter students from pursuing the subject.
Bethan Marshall, a senior lecturer in English at King's College, London, told The Sunday Times: “It's a syllabus out of the 1940s and rumour has it Michael Gove, who read literature, designed it himself.
“Schools will be incredibly depressed when they see it."
She added: “This will just grind children down.”
Exam boards were issued with strict guidance by the Department for Education (DfE) when drawing up the new English literature GCSE, which has no coursework element, instead testing teenagers through two exams at the end of year 11.
Students taking the OCR exam from 2015 will be required to study a pre-20th century novel, Romantic poetry and a Shakespeare play.
The DfE issued a statement following the criticism. It said: “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.
“It doesn't ban any authors, books or genres. It does ensure pupils will learn about a wide range of literature, including at least one Shakespeare play, a 19th century novel written anywhere and post-1914 fiction or drama written in the British Isles.
“That is only the minimum pupils will be expected to learn. It is now up to exam boards to design new GCSEs, which must then be accredited by the independent exams regulator Ofqual.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies