Letter to Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary

Dear Nicky Morgan,

Prompted by an international spotlight put on the imminent release of Harper Lee’s ‘new’ novel Go Set a Watchman, I am writing to ask if you would be willing to cast your own spotlight on a decision made by your predecessor Michael Gove that has effectively meant Lee’s famous and linked novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and any other prose and drama texts by American authors, can no longer be studied for GCSE English Literature from 2015.

You will obviously be aware of this decision and outcome, and I am hoping that you will resist – indeed, positively distance yourself from – supporting Michael Gove’s patently disingenuous, and mischievous, claim that he had not in fact ‘banned’ any texts. With American authors removed from the GCSE subject content and assessment objectives [Detailed study] for English Literature, no Exam Board would – and has not – set such a text for GCSE study. Without being set by an Exam Board, no school would be able to read and study this text at that level, and I attach a brief summary which specifically details two salient scenarios to counter Gove’s assertion of such study being possible.

I write as an English teacher with 30 years’ experience, and a GCSE English Literature examiner with over 25 years’ experience. I therefore know the enormous and significant engagement, educational impact, and examination success studying this, and novels like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, have brought to students over so many preceding years.

I also know that were you to reconsider and alter this effective banning of American texts, it would take some considerable time for these to be filtered back into the GCSE curriculum: all syllabi and new resources for the teaching of the revised GCSEs in English from 2015 have been implemented and completed. However, if you were at the very least willing to begin the process of review, I think a genuine wrong would be more than evident and ways could then be found to remedy this.

I appreciate how busy you are and will be in current developments and decision-making, not least the other imminent reality: the forthcoming General Election! That said, you have been in the public eye yourself of late and demonstrated you are quite prepared to see and place educational matters in a new light, if you’ll excuse a final reference to that metaphor.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Introducing Myself

This will be a blog primarily about English as a subject, so therefore teaching English. I wanted to call it Mike’s English, not a particularly inspiring title, but I thought there was mild mileage in the humour of starting with SPaG [if you’re reading this I’m guessing you have a working knowledge of teaching English]: the apostrophe would have worked two ways, firstly, as possession because the views that are going to be expressed on the subject of English are defiantly mine, though I know shared by many; and secondly, as omission to introduce irony because I am an American. I am an American who has lived in the UK for 48 years and taught English at an 11-18 comprehensive in Devon for 30 years, 18 as Head of Department. So I have some form.

However, Mike’s English was already taken as a blog name, apparently, so I have settled with mikeandenglish. There will be cleverclogs writing enough later on, so perhaps being content with the pragmatism of what it says on the tin is a sensible start.

There will also be plenty of nostalgia but hopefully a concentration on current commentary. I have learned the hard way that my immediate and angry commentaries on education in general and English in particular have not been particularly popular on Facebook of late where they get few if any acknowledgements, especially when compared with more ecstatic likings of photos of hamburgers on the barbecue.

I will start with my next posting which is a copy of the letter I have sent to Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, regarding the banning of American authors by her predecessor Michael Gove from the GCSE English Literature syllabus from 2015. I am currently awaiting her reply.