Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 2nd october 2020
Amidst the chaos and u-turns of results season this summer, it can be easy to forget one of the original injustices that attracted the ire of columnists and the Twitterati: that senior schools were going to be allowed to quietly drop poetry for a year, to recognise that the full GCSE curriculum would not have been covered in many schools due to lockdown. The hysteria was a little misplaced, arguably, as this was not – as some commentators portrayed it – a permanent junking of poetry from the school curriculum. (And, I think I’m right in saying, there’s been another volte face since then.) As someone who likes reading and writing about poetry, and who used to like teaching it, it did smart rather the implication that poetry would be the easiest thing to ditch. Surely it’s easier and quicker to cover poems than doorstop Victorian novels? In any case, I could point them to a very useful book if they wanted to learn independently how poems work.
We are thinking about poetry a lot this week because 1 October was National Poetry Day. Despite the DfE policy above, my sense is that poetry is actually on the ascendant, in many forms, across UK schools. You may have encountered Kate Clanchy, writer in residence at Oxford Spires, who has been publishing poetry from her school. Some of these poems were published in the national press mid-results debacle, as illustrations of times when Clanchy’s poets had been marked down by external moderators. It seems an odd thing to me anyway, marking poetry. I confess that in the days when I taught and assessed poetry, I shied away from putting a mark on the boys’ own poetry, preferring to give a grade for technical analysis, while leaving the boys’ emotions unmeasured. You will also be aware of Dr Gallagher’s passion for poetry, as illustrated in the poems of the week we have enjoyed, especially during lockdown when poems were a much-needed salve among the uncertainty of a pandemic. I would like to thank all of my colleagues who greeted National Poetry Day with such enthusiasm, and especially Mrs Hess for once again marking a literary festival with such imagination and commitment.