John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men may have been consigned to the back of the cupboard, but another text is about to take its place as the staple of the English literature GCSE.
The Depression-era novella was popular among teachers but it ran afoul of former education secretary Michael Gove, who said too many pupils were studying it.
Although the introduction of the new literature GCSE has broken Steinbeck’s hold, one hegemony may simply replace another. And according to experts the text heading for classroom domination is Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The 19th century classic features on the syllabus of all four exam boards and is ideal for teenagers, according to Paul Clayton, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English (Nate). In addition to having an element of Gothic horror, it is also a novella rather than a full-length novel.
“Some have seen it almost as a representation of moving from being a teenager into adulthood, that whole conflict between slightly more reasonable behaviour and succumbing to darker impulses,” Mr Clayton said.
“Different generations have left school all having done Of Mice and Men. I think Jekyll and Hyde will be that text in the future.”
Jekyll and Hyde is one of only three texts to appear on all the exam boards’ lists of 19th century novels, the others being Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.
But John Yandell, head of the English secondary PGCE team at the UCL Institute of Education, said the choices open to teachers were “disappointingly limited”.
He said many boards had looked at what schools already had in their cupboards when drawing up their lists. “There is a kind of unadventurousness,” he said.
For more on this story read the 6 February edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.
GCSE literature must be about more than 'dead white men', say campaigners - 27 September 2014
English literature to count double in league table rankings - 2 February 2014