Watch: inside the school shaking up English Literature

One secondary school in London decided to add a modern text that tackles racism, homophobia and teenage pregnancy to their GCSE course. We paid a visit to see what impact it had on the students. 

It’s the last day of school at Turing House comprehensive in Teddington, South London and a class of GCSE students are reflecting on a year together discussing topics ranging from racism and sexuality; gender politics to mental health. 

“In society it’s frowned upon for men to be able to show their emotions,” says Missy, “but then in the book it talks about how it is OK, and men should be able to talk about their feelings.” 

The book in question – a 2010 novel by Malorie Blackman called Boys Don’t Cry – was introduced to the class by their English tutor Hayley, who wanted to find new ways to engage her students and enliven their group discussions.

“Lots of students aren’t that excited about literature,” she says of young people, who are all required to study English until at least the age of 16. “[But] the way they’ve responded so positively to Boys Don’t Cry goes to show that clearly they love reading a text that feels familiar to them, where they can see themselves.”

Blackman’s novel follows Dante, a teenage boy waiting for his A-level results in the post who instead finds an ex-girlfriend at his door holding a baby she says is his, potentially scuppering his dreams of going to university. You can see why, for young people today, it feels relevant and gripping in a way the more established classics can’t match.

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