Conflict Rages over School Books `Canon'

By Judith Judd Education Editor | The Independent (London, England), March 11, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Conflict Rages over School Books `Canon'


Judith Judd Education Editor, The Independent (London, England)


A FIERCE battle has broken out among government advisers over whether children should be taught a canon of great literature.

One group has voted to ban a prescribed list of authors put forward as part of Sir Ron Dearing's overhaul of the curriculum. Another group at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which Sir Ron chairs, is determined to keep the list. They expect to win the backing of a full meeting of the authority, which will finalise the curriculum in 10 days' time.

The dispute could bring renewed conflict between ministers and English teachers: teachers are in a majority on the English advisory group which wants the list dropped.

Teachers say a prescribed list is unnecessary and that they must be free to choose authors appropriate for different children. They also argue that it is impossible to agree on which authors should be included.

Traditionalists say the canon is vital to ensure that all children study some pre-20th century works and that the publication of a "canon" has already led to children reading more early literature. Teachers do not have to teach all the prescribed authors but must choose from the list.

The canon, similar to that in the Government's first attempt to revise the English curriculum 18 months ago, includes Eliot, Swift, Dickens and Austen, as well as William Golding, L P Hartley, John Steinbeck, Susan Hill and Ray Bradbury for 14- to 16-year-olds. Other authors, such as Kenneth Grahame and Lewis Carroll, are prescribed for younger children.

Officials at the authority are divided. Some back a compromise that pupils should have to study works from the list or those of "comparable" authors. Others say this will allow a minority of teachers to continue to teach predominantly 20th century literature.

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