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The Guardian view on poetry in schools: don't let it go | Editorial


Finding meaning in verse can be a challenge for teenagers. But it is also a joy, and letting them drop it is the wrong move

“Had we but world enough, and time…” The opening line of Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress sums up the dilemma of the English exam regulator Ofqual, which this week decided the Covid-19 crisis means that next year GCSE English literature students will, if they wish, be able to drop poetry completely. Ofqual feels that, with no certainty of a full return to school in the autumn, it will be “extremely challenging” to teach a full syllabus. It worries that students would struggle “to get to grips with complex literary texts remotely”.

This is no doubt true, but Ofqual’s solution is perverse. Study of a Shakespeare play has been deemed sacrosanct – no doubt making Shakespeare optional would have caused a tempest. The other three time-honoured components – the 19th-century novel, post-1914 British fiction and drama, and poor old poetry – will be optional, with students having to pick two from three. Modern fiction and drama is likely to be a default choice for many, leaving a straight fight between Donne and Dickens.

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