Poetry deemed optional for next year's GCSE exam students 'to ease virus pressure'

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Poetry will be optional for GCSE English literature students next year, as part of changes for the 2021 paper brought in by the exams body Ofqual to “ease the pressure on many students and teachers” after school closures because of coronavirus.

Pupils will now be given a choice of exam topics. All students will have to write about a Shakespeare play, but they can choose two out of the three remaining content areas: poetry, the 19th century novel and post-1914 British fiction and drama.

The BBC reported that “having originally proposed that there would be no changes to the English literature exam in 2021, Ofqual said it had decided to offer students a choice of topics after schools expressed ‘significant concern’ about their ability to cover all of the subject areas that form the basis of exam questions”.

Nearly half of people who responded to a consultation opposed plans to leave the exam unchanged, saying it was hard for students "to get to grips with complex literary texts remotely", the BBC said. “The government has agreed students will be given a choice of topics on which they will be asked questions, so schools can focus on a smaller number of texts.”

The childen's author and poet Michael Rosen said on Facebook: "The government are playing a game with their changes to the English GCSE syllabus. Gone is the old commitment to poetry as one of the three pillars of literature ( the others being drama and fiction). By making it voluntary they are in effect ensuring that a percentage of students at English schools will not do any poetry in years 10 and 11 (14-16).

"Poetry offers a view on humanity, society and the world that is playful, contemplative, mysterious, questioning and one that is often interested in giving readers the chance to hold several different ideas in our heads at the same time. We should all have a chance to give this a try when we’re at school. The government are wrong."

The poet and teacher Kate Clanchy said on Twitter: “The best way to relieve the pressure on GCSE literature 2021 would have been to restore open book exams, not to make poetry optional. Then students could have read lots of diverse, inclusive poems instead of spending hours memorising quotes.”

She added: "Dropping poetry at GCSE sends a signal down the school that it's the dispensable bit of English, and the one that teachers and kids find dull. Poetry is core, and teenagers read and write more of it every year."

The Hawthornden prize-winning poet John McCullough commented: "Sad day. I would never have ended up with a book of poems published without an inspiring GCSE English teacher who encouraged me to read Sylvia Plath, James Berry, Emily Dickinson and the gang."

He added: "Time for warning posters in school libraries about the dangerous effects of sound, rhythm and imagery. There'll be Sylvia Plath parties behind the bike-sheds before you know it. Ofqual explicitly mentions how poetry has been found to be very challenging for many. Realistically, the novel is an easier sell in terms of the way it employs language ... so unlikely to be dropped." 

 

 

◄ Fighting for breath, bats, and a tomato sandwich: poet's near-death experience on a Covid-19 ward

Poetry bike tour, South Downs, 2016 ►

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