Many teachers know too little about poetry

LONDON (Reuters) - Many teachers do not know enough about poetry, leaving their pupils with only limited experience of classic poems and verses from other cultures, school inspectorate Ofsted said on Friday.

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Government-led initiatives to raise standards of basic literacy have meant little detailed attention has been given to teaching poetry, it added in a report.

Inspectors said the problem was most noticeable in primary schools, but that provision for poetry was at least satisfactory in all 86 schools they visited and good or very good in two thirds of them.

In the primary schools inspected, the same poems were chosen repeatedly, including “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll and “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear.

“Too few of these poems are genuinely challenging or connect with the direct experience of primary pupils,” the report said.

In secondary schools, inspectors said overly prescriptive teaching of poetry required for GCSE study sometimes had a negative impact on pupils’ attitudes.

Some pupils submitted poetry as part of English coursework, but in general most pupils did not write any poetry while studying for GCSE exams.

“In general, pupils’ experience of poetry did not prepare them well for A-level study in English literature,” the report found.

It said the best schools worked with poets and encouraged pupils to contribute to competitions, local festivals and school reading groups.

The report called on exam bodies to review the place of poetry in GCSE English literature and language courses, and to provide schools with support to improve poetry teaching.

Schools Minister Andrew Adonis said poetry was an essential part of teaching English literature and was embedded in the national curriculum.

“Understanding the mechanics of language and being able to express yourself creatively and concisely are really important skills,” he said.

“I want to see a generation of young people who know their poetry from Auden to Zephaniah and their sonnets from sestinas.”

Editing by Steve Addison