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From bad to verse: Schools are given the OK to drop poetry from GCSE exams

Poetry has been dropped as a compulsory topic for GCSE students preparing to sit their exams after months out of school.

Exams regulator Ofqual yesterday unveiled a slimmed-down English literature syllabus for 2021 to account for the lost teaching time.

For the first time, poetry has been stripped of its core status meaning schools can axe it from their classrooms.

All students will be assessed on a Shakespeare play but can choose questions from two of the three other sections – poetry, a 19th century novel and post-1914 British fiction or drama.

Many schools are likely to ditch poetry, which lots of children struggle to grasp.   

Ofqual embraced the flexibility after pressure from teachers grappling with a wide-ranging syllabus in a tight time-frame.

But education leaders have said the regulator’s ‘tinkering’ does not go far enough to address the disruption.

The watchdog launched a consultation on next year’s exams last month, with nearly half opposing plans to leave the English literature assessment unaltered.

They highlighted difficulties with pupils trying ‘to get to grips with complex literary texts remotely’.

Ofqual has confirmed pupils will be offered a greater choice of subjects in their exam papers for GCSE English literature, history and ancient history in 2021. 

Yet teachers questioned why this had not been extended to all school subjects. 

The watchdog has not yet made a decision on whether to delay the 2021 summer exams due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The consultation had proposed delaying the start of the GCSE exam series to June 7, after the half-term break – but the watchdog said it is still working with the Government and the exam boards ‘to consider the best approach’.

‘While there was general support for a delay to the exams, to allow more time for teaching, respondents were less positive about this if it meant a potential delay to results,’ the regulator said.

Schools will also no longer be required to declare to exam boards that they provided GCSE and A-level geography students with the opportunity to undertake fieldwork as part of the changes being introduced.

But Duncan Baldwin, deputy director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the plans for the 2021 exam series ‘amount only to tinkering at the edges when it is clear that students could experience widespread ongoing disruption over the course of the next academic year.’

He added: ‘Everybody can see that the situation with coronavirus remains precarious. 

‘It appears to be likely that students will have to intermittently self-isolate, and that schools will be required to fully or partially close in response to local infection spikes.

‘This makes it extremely challenging to deliver all the content for GCSEs and A-levels to all students, on top of the disruption that has already taken place to their learning.’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘Regrettably, these plans are essentially a case of “too little, too late”. 

‘NAHT believes these proposals are unambitious and do not go far enough.’

He added: ‘Part of the rationale for adapting assessments for summer 2021 must be to support young people’s wellbeing and mental health. 

‘Ofqual’s plans for next year don’t contain sufficient adaptations proposed to achieve this.

‘Instead, schools and students are now being left in the unenviable position that they will be expected to cover as much content as possible in a reduced amount of time. This is unfair on students and it is unfair on schools and colleges.’ 

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