‘Women in literature’ topic may be renamed as exam boards order diversity shake-up The Times 05.05.21

The original article is here

An exam board has proposed a shake-up that would add ethnic minority authors to its English syllabus and could rename the “women in literature” topic.

OCR, one of the three main exam boards, has asked teachers to vote on improving diversity by choosing new texts for its GCSE and A-level courses. These will be used to broaden the curriculum, giving a wider choice of poems, plays and novels in lessons and exams.

The board asks whether the title of one A-level module, “women in literature”, should be replaced by “gender in literature”, “representing gender” or any other suggestion. It says that this would help pupils better understand the topic.

The exam board also proposes new texts including Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo; Trumpet by Jackie Kay; The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë; The Awakening by Kate Chopin; The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith; and How to be Both by Ali Smith.

David James, deputy head of Lady Eleanor Holles, an independent girls’ school in southwest London, opposed any change to the title. He said: “Any move to erase ‘women’, and by implication the female voice, and the female identity, from A-level literature should be opposed by all English teachers who value real diversity of thought, and who cherish some of the greatest writers to have ever lived.

“To subsume ‘women’ into something vague like ‘gender’ is reductive, but also meaningless because all literature is ‘gendered’ because it is written by human beings. We have to protect what is distinctive about the female experience throughout the centuries. Once lost it will be difficult to reclaim.”

OCR said that it was modernising its curricula to ensure a fair balance of “genders, races, ages, disabled/non-disabled people and cultures of characters portrayed in images throughout assessment material”.

Of its history specifications, it said that pupils “have the opportunity to see their own stories in the history they are learning and go some way to address the linked issue of ‘decolonisation’.”

It added: “Developing new resources to support teachers to engage with diverse content is another focus in English and in other subjects. In GCSE food preparation and nutrition for example, we’re expanding our recipe lists to support students to cook more diverse dishes. We’ve developed posters for science teachers about the achievements of women in science.”

It asked teachers to vote on new A-level texts including (in American literature) Passing by Nella Larsen, which focuses on the fraught relationship between two mixed-race former childhood friends, and The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman, about a young dark-skinned black girl and her childhood in Idaho, Los Angeles and Harlem.

New novels in the “dystopia” section could include The Power by Naomi Alderman or Severance by Ling Ma while suggestions for the Gothic module include Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Shame by Salman Rushdie.

At GCSE, proposed modern drama texts include Off the Endz, Belong and Playing the Game by Bola Agbaje, A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death by Fred d’Aguiar, I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed and Love N Stuff by Tanika Gupta.

In the “love and relationships” section, suggested poems include Lullaby by Fatimah Asghar and Flirtation by Rita Dove, and possible additions to war poetry in the “conflict” module include We Lived Happily During the War, by Ilya Kaminsky and Book the First of The Emigrants by Charlotte Smith (1793) (extract).

Under the section “youth and age”, proposed new texts include Prayer by Zaffar Kunial and Old Spice by Warsan Shire.

OCR has joined the “Lit in Colour” campaign, launched last year by Penguin Random House UK and the Runnymede Trust, to increase pupils’ access to books by “writers of colour and those from minority ethnic backgrounds”.

Jill Duffy, the exam board’s chief executive, said: “We’re honoured to play our part in helping to give young people greater access to works by authors of colour. We plan to work shoulder to shoulder with our Lit in Colour partners to support access to a more diverse English literature curriculum in a number of ways.”


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