For Books’ Sake presents: #BalanceTheBooks

12th Sep 2014

GCSE English Literature Gender Breakdown 2014-2017 Authors
Earlier this year, significant education reforms were announced, including changes to GCSEs. For Books' Sake has taken a closer look at what these changes mean for gender representation, and today we're launching our campaign to #balancethebooks...

When the statutory guidelines were adapted earlier this year, placing a far greater emphasis on ‘English literary heritage,’ For Books’ Sake and the wider reading community expressed concern over the repercussions.

Beyond Austen and perhaps a Brontë sister or two, few will be able to reel off a wealth of women’s work used as set texts for GCSE English Literature courses.

With English writers now being priotised over American voices, women writers previously favoured by exam boards, such as Harper Lee, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker are set to be excluded.

And since the inclusion of authors like these are key to ensuring GCSE students read a range of authors that is diverse in terms of gender and race, the outlook began to look bleak.

We questioned whether this narrowing of influence would lead to an even greater White English Men bias. In a nutshell, that's exactly the case.The changes did not set a good precedent for diverse and representative reading lists from historically unimaginative exam boards. Here at For Books’ Sake, we questioned whether this narrowing of influence would lead to an even greater White English Men bias. In a nutshell, that’s exactly the case.

The team spent weeks digging through all available archives and future draft qualification specifications of the major exam boards for England and Wales, in order to collate and present a definitive illustration of how the government’s guidance is quickly reducing an already skewed gender balance.

Today marks the publication of our findings, which you can read in full at our campaign page for #BalanceTheBooks.

GCSE English Literature 2014-2017 Gender Breakdown Texts

A snapshot of our results show that students taking their exams in 2017 will have studied 38% more texts written by men than texts written by women – that’s a 12% increase in disparity from this past exam year.

To put this in even greater perspective: with over 500,000 GCSE students in England and Wales, these syllabus revisions mean that half a million children are being presented with texts that fail to represent a society that is more diverse than ever before.

Crucially, the reading lists are doing increasingly less justice to the brilliant women writers that have, and continue to inform our heritage.

It is not all bad news. The government guidelines do not decide which texts children read in class. It is up to the each exam board’s discretion to build their reading lists – and though, so far, they’ve made some questionable omissions, we can call for the books to be balanced.

In our campaign to #BalanceTheBooks, For Books’ Sake is calling for exam boards to commit to gender equality in the set texts of their GCSE English Literature courses, and to commit to better diversity in terms of race, class and sexuality.

To find out more, read our breakdown and stay tuned for more campaign news very soon. In the meantime, use the #BalanceTheBooks hashtag to tell us which women writers you’d love to see featured on GCSE reading lists, or find out more ways you can support the campaign at #BalanceTheBooks.