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Let teachers decide the canon

Tabloid headline writers feel a warm glow at the mention of a literary canon. What better way for Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, to make his midsummer mark than by announcing that a prescribed list of books will remain? There is cause for debate, perhaps, about whether Conrad and Swift are an alluring prospect for young teenagers but none about the need for schools to teach their pupils classic literature.

But why have a list at all? The original proposal from the Government's curriculum advisers was simply that teachers should pick works written before, during and after the 20th century. That made sense. A canon should change all the time. Some old books should disappear to make way for new ones. What matters is that pupils sample a selection of good books, old and new. Teachers don't need politicians to tell them that.

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