Race row as exam board drops 'unsuitable' poetry text

7th March 2003 at 00:00
The editors of a critically acclaimed volume of black performance poetry have accused exam board OCR of institutional racism after it suddenly ditched plans to make it a set text.

Asher and Martin Hoyles had been involved in six months of discussions with an apparently enthusiastic board to make the text an option in the next GCSE English literature syllabus. They were therefore "stunned", they said, to be told last month that OCR had dropped it.

The call came just days before they were to meet in Cambridge to finalise the selection of poems to be used from this September.

An OCR official said the board's consultant teachers and senior examiners had thought a poem about menstruation would be unsuitable for mixed classrooms.

The official, a former journalist, suggested the poem - It's Better Post- than Pre by Patience Agbabi - could spark media outrage. "Just think what The Sun would make of it," he said.

But even without the poem, OCR is still not prepared to put the book on the syllabus.

The Hoyles have received a letter from Dr Paul Norgate, a senior OCR official, inviting them to lunch in Birmingham to "explore the possibility" of a different anthology, that would also include poems from other cultures.

But they are furious at having been "led up the garden path" and are not prepared to talk about alternative plans.

They want to know why the decision to ditch their poems was taken without consulting a single black teacher. They want to know why OCR suddenly backed off after sending more than 30 positive emails about the poems.

The board's proposed "pick 'n mix" anthology, they say, would destroy the whole point of their collection, which aims specifically to inspire black pupils. "It's aimed at countering black under-performance," says Martin Hoyles. "And it's only an option - not every school would have to do it."

The Hoyles also complain that they have received no apology for their wasted time and effort.

A spokesman for OCR said this week that the board had made no final decision on the poems and was still hoping to continue negotiations with the Hoyles.

"This is not about race," he said, "but inappropriate material."


Extract from "It's Better Post- than Pre-" by Patience Agbabi

I remember that first memory

a dark red stain

I didn't feel no nausea

I didn't feel no pain

I was a woman a warrior

exotic arcane

and once a month a lunatic

in nappies and insane

My mum she bought the towels in

she didn't make a fuss

she told me about men and she said "It's them and us"

mini regular


I stuck em on I stuck em in

and then I stuck em up

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