Keeley Nolan and Isobel Woodger, English Subject Advisors
Over the last few months, we’ve been working hard on adding some new, diverse texts to our GCSE and A Level Literature specifications. Working with our expert consultative panel, our colleagues in the Lit in Colour programme and with you, our teachers and students, we can now announce which plays and novels we’re adding.
We hope to offer a bit of insight into the fantastic literary texts we’ve chosen and why we think they strengthen our offer.
We’re excited to introduce Winsome Pinnock’s Leave Taking as our new GCSE English Literature set text. Leave Taking will replace My Mother Said I Never Should as a modern drama option (Section A of Paper 1) from first teaching September 2022 and first assessment June 2024.
The play explores the generational clash between a single mother and her two teenage daughters played out through the frictions between British and Jamaican cultures. It follows Enid, a Jamaican immigrant now living in Deptford who, worried about her daughters Del and Viv, takes them to see Mia, an obeah woman. The play explores the realities and difficulties immigrants face in modern Britain; the relationship between Enid and her British-born daughters, their differing attitudes to education, work and what constitutes respect. The themes of identity and belonging are also prominent as the characters search for and question their sense of home.
Leave Taking is suitable for a wide range of GCSE students. The action switches between two living room settings and follows a linear structure. When studying this play, students should be introduced to aspects of Jamaican culture, including Obeah, Jamaican accent and dialect. We’ll be producing resources to support this.
The most recent production of Leave Taking was at the Bush Theatre in 2018. You can watch video clips to see Winsome Pinnock discussing the play and the cast of the 2018 production reflecting on the continuing relevance of the issues Leave Taking raises.
We’re also making some changes to our GCSE English Literature poetry anthology. We will be introducing more poets of colour into each of the three thematic clusters by replacing five of the fifteen poems within each option. See below for the list of which poems will be replaced in each cluster.
We will share these with you once copyright permissions have been confirmed. The revised poetry anthology will also be for first teach September 2022 and first assessment June 2024.
We’re really pleased to be making these changes to our GCSE English Literature and we hope that doing so will offer more diverse, interesting and relevant choices for you and your students to explore!
For A Level, we’ve focused on adding an extra text to the suggested set text lists in Component 2 and will be taking forward your feedback on topic titles into any future reform. This means there will now be nine novels that you and your students can choose to study alongside either of the core set texts.
These are being introduced for first teach September 2022, with their first assessment in June 2024.
American Literature 1880–1940: Passing by Nella Larsen (1929)
Written in 1928, Larsen’s novel centres on the connection between two light-skinned black women: Irene Redfield and her childhood friend Clare Kendry, who is now ‘passing’ as a white woman. As a writer of the Harlem Renaissance, Larsen delves into ideas about identity, race and class disparity in America during the period.
Offering parallels with both The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby in its exploration of class, personal reinvention, loneliness and belonging, we think it’s a really great comparison for either core text. A new adaptation directed by Rebecca Hall and starring Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson is due for release by Netflix on 10 November 2021.
(Also, if you were keen to study Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, this is already included on the suggested text list for Women in Literature.)
The Gothic: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Adding a pre-war British Gothic novel to the list felt like a natural way to extend our understanding of The Gothic in the 20th century. Du Maurier’s unnamed narrator tells us of meeting her husband, Maxim de Winter, and their life in the wake of his first wife - the glamorous, mysterious and dead Rebecca. Exploring psychological terror, sexuality, secrets and violence, du Maurier’s novel is a classic modern Gothic.
So popular with readers that it’s never been out of print, du Maurier’s novel can compare quite easily with either The Bloody Chamber and Dracula in its discussion of manipulation, gender, jealousy, and history, not to mention its engagement with setting.
Dystopia: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993)
We’re really excited about the addition of Butler’s novel, which seems alarmingly prescient now, engaged as it is with ideas of ecological and political collapse. It centres on a young black girl gifted with hyper-empathy, Lauren Olamina, who witnesses her community disintegrate and sets out to save herself and spread the word of ‘Earthseed’.
The connections this text has with both The Handmaid’s Tale and Nineteen Eighty-Four are rich, given its explorations of religion, survival, control and witnessing. Butler examines what it means to be human in a dystopian world and expands our conception of what dystopian fiction means.
Women in Literature: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (2019)
The most recent novel to be added to our lists, this is a text we know has really resonated with teachers and students. Evaristo’s Booker-winning novel offers a really valuable engagement with womanhood, relationships and gender identity, through its cast of characters. The novel explores motherhood, love, race, and otherness across generations, spurring from the opening night of a new play at the National Theatre.
Both Sense and Sensibility and Mrs Dalloway explore ideas about the ways in which limitations can be placed on women, relationships within families, social status and class, all of which are ideas that Evaristo’s novel expands.
The Immigrant Experience: The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (1956)
Selvon’s novel, set in post-1948 National Act London, offers a window into not just the Caribbean immigration but the varying migrant communities who made a home and a life for themselves in London after the war. Exploring class, found family and sexuality, Selvon shows us a London rich in voices and experiences, one that disenchants while it offers opportunity for his characters.
Connecting with The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Call It Sleep through its examination of belonging, dislocation, urban space and seeking community, Selvon’s novel is a perfect addition to our suggested text list.
Poems being replaced in Love and Relationships
Poems being replaced in Conflict
Poems being replaced in Youth and Age
We will have a launch event in November so do keep your eyes peeled for more details! We’ll also be running some free Thinking about Teaching webinars from spring term onwards, giving a solid overview of the new texts and how they fit into the qualification and an opportunity for you to ask questions.
Our Lit in Colour partners at Penguin and the Runnymede Trust published their research report into diversity in English earlier this year with recommendations for schools, ITT providers, policy makers and classroom teachers. It is well worth taking some time to reflect on their findings and advice, as we are moving forward.
We really hope that centres take a look at these new diverse texts and think about where they might fit within your offer. Do let us know what you think!
If you have any other questions you can leave comments below, or email us at English@ocr.org.uk. You can also sign up to receive email updates or follow us on Twitter @OCR_English.
Keeley is responsible for a portfolio of English qualifications including both GCSEs. Keeley joined the English team in 2014, leading on the development of GCSE English Language and supporting first teaching of the new specification. Prior to joining OCR, Keeley spent two years teaching abroad. In her spare time, she enjoys travelling, reading and swimming.
Isobel has particular responsibility for the A Level English qualification suite. She previously worked as a classroom teacher in a co-educational state secondary school, with three years as second-in-charge in English with responsibility for Key Stage 5. In addition to teaching all age groups from Key Stage 3 to 5, Isobel worked with the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education as a mentor to PGCE trainees. Prior to this, she studied for an MA in Film, Television and Screen Media with Birkbeck College, University of London while working as a learning support assistant at a large state comprehensive school.