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Making poetry optional in GCSE English literature is out of tune with the times

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Ofqual’s ruling comes at a time when more children than ever are reading and writing verse

Ofqual, the exams authority, has announced that next year schools won’t have to do all the components of English literature GCSE. Students must answer on Shakespeare, but can choose two out of three from the 19th-century novel, a modern drama or novel, and poetry, as represented by a themed anthology. So, for the first time since the inception of GCSE and indeed any other exam in the short history of English literature, poetry is an option.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. It’s only for a year. Plenty of teachers will stick with the poems, especially if they’ve already studied them. It doesn’t speak well of the status of English, though. The content of double science – the popular three-in-one science GCSE – is presumably also, as Ofqual says of poetry, difficult to deliver online, but Ofqual isn’t telling teachers they can pick between chemistry and biology next year providing they stick with the physics. It would cause outrage: we all know that all three sciences are important. So what do we know about poetry? Cutting just English and the speaking elements of modern foreign language sends a wider message about the importance of these subjects, a message about who can be bossed and what is dispensable.

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