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“It’s important that students have the opportunity to study texts that they see themselves in” says Eduqas

Julia Harrison-Pickard

As part of its commitment to continuously refine and improve the content of its qualifications, exam board, Eduqas, has introduced three new texts to its GCSE English Literature specification. Julia Harrison-Pickard looks at the importance of a wide range of cultural diversity and representation within the subject.

“Literature has the power to shape our understanding of the world, and when we limit the types of stories that are told, we risk perpetuating stereotypes and creating a narrow worldview.

“It’s so important that students are given the chance to study texts that they see themselves in and that reflect their cultural heritage and lives. Diverse literature also provides opportunities for students to learn about cultures, traditions and experiences that may be different from their own. This exposure is vital for fostering empathy, understanding and appreciation for different ways of life.

“English literature is constantly evolving, with modern writers producing exceptional work – sharing untold stories and adding to the diverse pool of literature. From September 2023, our English Literature GCSE will offer an equal split of female and male authors in modern and 19th century texts, and we are proud to be the only exam board in England to do so. 

“While this is an important step in addressing the diversity of authors that students are exposed to, it is also imperative that the texts on offer address a diverse set of subjects and feature characters that represent different races, gender, beliefs, sexual orientation and socioeconomic statuses.

“In our Post 1914 Prose and Drama section we have introduced two new texts as part of our commitment to address the ethnicity and gender balance of authors, and to allow schools and students access to more texts that reflect the rich diversity of our country.

“Boys Don’t Cry, by Malorie Blackman, is a fresh and engaging novel that has positive representations of black and LGBTQ+ characters. Malorie Blackman, former Children’s Laureate, is acknowledged as one of today’s most imaginative and convincing writers for young readers. Many will have already read the highly successful Noughts and Crosses series and will be familiar with Blackman’s powerful and emotive work.

“The other new addition to this part of the specification, Leave Taking, by Winsome Pinnock, explores the dislocated identity of black British immigrants, and is a powerful and moving play that delves into themes of family, identity and cultural heritage.

“Following feedback from schools and colleges, we have also replaced William Shakespeare’s Henry V with Twelfth Night. It is our hope that this play, with its timeless depictions of unrequited love and human behaviours, will add some comedy and revelry to the Shakespeare section of the specification.  Its themes of class, identity, gender and attraction are incredibly relevant to our current cultural moment and will hopefully become a popular choice with our schools and colleges.

“As well as these new texts, there are many others already on our specification that would be a fantastic choice for schools wanting to explore a wide range of perspectives, experiences and voices. Take The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, for example, where the main character is a young boy with autism, or The History Boys, which deals with themes of homosexuality and class. One of our culturally diverse novels is Meera Syal’s Anita and Me, which tells the story of a nine-year-old girl growing up in the only Punjabi family in her village.  It is a witty and engaging book that tackles important issues such as racism, identity and the struggles faced by immigrants in society.

“These texts all go a long way to providing a more accurate and nuanced portrayal of different communities and cultures, and they help to challenge stereotypes and promote a more accurate understanding of the world.

“With all this in mind, perhaps one of the most important considerations for teachers when choosing a text, is to fundamentally teach what they have enjoyed reading themselves. We urge teachers to explore the texts in our specification, especially these newly introduced texts, and find the ones that they love and the ones they feel will resonate with their students.

“Teachers are able to access a wide range of free blended learning resources and knowledge organisers for our English Literature GCSE. The resources are designed to complement traditional face to face teaching with an online learning pack that allows students to learn at their own pace, and can also be used to support students in their revision.

“Books feed our imagination and have an untold ability to open our eyes to the plight and experiences of others. By encouraging learners to study texts that promote inclusivity and expand our understanding of the world, we are helping to create a generation of well-rounded and empathetic students.”

By Julia Harrison-Pickard, GCSE English Literature Subject Officer for Eduqas

A part of WJEC, Eduqas is one of the largest providers of qualifications for schools, academies, sixth form and further education colleges across England.

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