GCSE English 2021: AQA looks set to U-turn over poetry

AQA says it has 'listened' to teachers' concerns about its decision to make poetry compulsory in next year's GCSE and 'is taking another look'

Tes Reporter

unseen poetry resources v2

England's largest school exam board looks set to announce a U-turn next week on its decision to make poetry study compulsory in the 2021 English literature GCSE.

AQA announced yesterday that poetry, alongside Shakespeare, would now be a compulsory element of its 2021 exams.


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That followed Ofqual's decision last month that schools in England would no longer need to cover all four subject areas in English literature because of learning time lost from the pandemic.

The exams regulator said pupils would have to be assessed on a Shakespeare play, but it would allow exam boards to give schools the option to focus on two of the three remaining areas of content: poetry; 19th-century novel; or fiction/drama from the British Isles from 1914.

AQA's decision to make poetry compulsory provoked an outcry from English teachers and heads.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It turns out that there was room for interpretation in Ofqual’s decision, and some exam boards have decided there will be two compulsory questions. If this stands, it means that curriculum planning that took place over the summer will have to be revisited and plans redrawn.”

Today, however, AQA has announced it will reconsider the proposed changes.

Pauline McPartlan, AQA’s head of curriculum for English, said: “Nothing is more important to us than our teachers and students, so we’re taking another look at our GCSE English Literature changes to see if we can do something closer to what schools were expecting.

"We know how important it is to do this quickly, so we’ll be back in touch with schools after the weekend.”

And in a letter to teachers, the board said: "Many of you have been in touch to say these changes weren't what you were expecting or had planned for.

"Nothing is more important to us than you and your students, so I want you to know that we've listened to you. As a result, we've decided to take another look at our changes to see if we can adapt the qualification differently for next summer."

"The last thing we want to do is create more uncertainty for you, so we've started looking at different options this afternoon and we'll be working over the weekend so we can get you some clarity as quickly as we possibly can."

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