Jack Quann
Jack Quann

16.53 5 Aug 2020


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A debate has begun over the use of poetry in schools, after England decided to make it optional in exams.

GCSE students will be able to drop the topic next year, following concern that schools there may not be able to cover all areas because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jane O'Hanlon is education officer with Poetry Ireland.

She told The Hard Shoulder: "I think it's an unfortunate decision - I can't say it hasn't been thought through, cause I can't speak for the UK and their education policy and how they work.

"But curriculum decisions are often political decisions, rather than decisions that have to do with the quality of the actual teaching and learning that's going to go on in schools.

"I think it's probably an easy one to think about taking off, I think it's a shock.

"To think that the home of Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas... Carol Rumens, Carol Ann Duffy, poets that we sort of take to our hearts and love... it's a strange decision I think.

"I can understand it in one way, but I think it's strange".

"We need that sense of finding some way to understand, to make sense of who and what we are in the world.

"And more particularly as we've seen, when things are less predictable - and in some senses completely unpredictable - and human beings have done that since the first time they drew a line on the wall in a cave.

"So rather than seeing the arts, and one of those arts being poetry, as something that's kind of an added extra, we have to see them as tools that human beings need for survival".

"And I think that's the surprising piece about this.

"We've discovered here in Ireland how people have gone and clung to the arts, and particularly in our case come to poetry, in ways that we could not have anticipated".

"If we think about poetry and what does it do, in terms of its artistic merit it's about enjoyment, it's about self expression and it's about freeing our imagination.

"And then if we think about it on the technical side - which teachers have to think about all the time - it's about the focused use of language, it's about the development particularly now of oral language... and also that development of figures of language - which allow us to dream and think and speculate and create.

"Poetry: it's the repository of the emotional and psychic memory of the country, and it shapes the sensitivity and the sensibility of a nation as a whole.

"So it's a very strange thing to do at a time of crisis".

"The issue isn't the young people and the issue isn't poetry, the issue I think are negative and uniformed or unthought through attitudes to poetry".

'It's a very strange thing to do' - Poetry to be optional in English schools

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Main image: A Love Poems book is seen on an antique trunk in Canada. Picture by: Window Light/Zuma Press/PA Images

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England GCSE Jane O’Hanlon Optional Poetry The Hard Shoulder

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