Friday, 7 December 2007

Poetry in primary schools

It’s not often you’re going to see me talking about Ofsted on this page, but this report from the government education watchdog about the teaching of poetry in primary schools makes pretty interesting reading.

I’m not sure I’m in any way qualified to make any pronouncement on it, given that my own primary school career is 27 years in the past, but it did set me thinking back. I don’t honestly remember being taught ANY poetry at primary school, or at high school (11-14) for that matter. And both of them, I should say, were really pretty good schools, with excellent academic standards.

As others have pointed out, the report contains examples of poetry being written by schoolchildren, and it’s really rather good, which confirms an impression I’ve formed over the past few years. My own godson (aged 11) recently showed me a poem he’d written for school, and it was excellent, and a colleague was telling me earlier this week about the poem his young daughter had written at school. She’d taken the sort of imaginative leap that I can’t imagine we’d have made if we’d been set the same exercise 30 years ago. In fact, a couple of years ago I attended a workshop at which much the same exercise was set, and while some interesting poems resulted, I think we all played it much safer. Finally, when I ran a workshop in a primary school a couple of years back, I was surprised but delighted by the standard of work the children wrote. Best of all was the fact that the kids (they were 10) gave the impression of being familiar with both very traditional poetry and much more modern stuff, and of being able to read and write either.

What I’m saying, I suppose, is that in my very limited experience, poetry does seem to be taught rather better these days, at least if what the children are writing is anything to go by. And while widening the range of what is taught is probably a good thing, I hope it’s not used as an excuse for chucking out all the older stuff. Room for both, surely?

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