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Teachers not well versed

Poetry is the worst taught part of the English curriculum, with limited study of classic poets and work from other cultures, says Ofsted in a report published today.

Many teachers, especially in primary schools, do not know enough about the subject, leading to a limited range of work being covered. In secondaries, some pupils found poetry dull and pointless, largely the result of "didactic" teaching.

Overall, Ofsted found that the quality of teaching was at least satisfactory in all of the 86 schools it surveyed. In two-thirds of schools, poetry teaching was rated as good or better. The best schools worked with poets, ran reading groups and encouraged pupils to contribute their own poetry to competitions. But in many schools the subject had not been properly developed, inspectors said.

The pressures of national tests at the end of Years 6 and 9 often led to teachers dropping it as they concentrated on preparing for exams.

Pupils were generally positive about poetry, which went against the common perception of many teachers in secondary schools.

"These positive attitudes towards poetry may well reflect its place in contemporary culture, including rap and pop lyrics, its use in advertising and the popularity of some performance poetry," the inspe ctors said. One pupil described poetry to inspectors as "like diving into a place you don't know".

However, primary school teachers tended to teach the same small number of poems, many of which were lightweight. Too few were sufficiently challenging or chimed with pupils' experiences.

In secondaries, a far wider range of poems was used. Poor teaching and the sheer volume of poetry pupils had to study at GCSE put some pupils off, inspectors said.

Dr Bethan Marshall, senior lecturer in English education at King's College, part of London University, agreed there was "too much" poetry at key stage 4. "It is a pity that poetry is not assessed more through coursework." she said. "That would give schools a chance to do more interesting, exploratory work."

A number of teachers were criticised for not giving good feedback to pupils attempting to write their own poems. But in one "exceptional case" a teacher took the opportunity to respond to a sonnet from a pupil with one of her own.


These are the top ten poems studied in primaries:

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

On the Ning, Nang, Nong by Spike Milligan

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

From a Railway Carriage by R L Stevenson

The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

The Magic Box by Kit Wright

The Sounds Collector by Roger McGough

Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl

Dog in the Playground by Allan Ahlberg.

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