« Previous | Main | Next »

AQA axe knife poem

Post categories:

Chris Vallance | 12:00 UK time, Tuesday, 2 September 2008

UPDATE There's a Have Your Say discussion, and story on News Online. Education editor at News Online, Gary Eason, also points us to an earlier row about the poem, but one that didn't result in its removal from text books. How times have changed.


The AQA have removed a poem, Education for Leisure by Carol Ann Duffy, from the anthology studied by GCSE pupils. An iPM listener put us on to the story - here's the email:

Are you aware that one of the key poems taught at GCSE to thousands of Year
11 pupils, and included in their Anthology provided by one of the major exam boards, is to be axed because it makes reference to knife crime?

We put that to AQA, here's what they said:

Following concerns raised about this particular poem we have decided to remove it from our anthology from the start of the coming academic year (2008/9). We are writing to centres to inform them of our decision and advise them to destroy their current copies of the anthology: these will be replaced with new anthologies, with the poem removed, for all cohorts beginning their course of study in September 08. Candidates who are half way through their course will be able to continue studying the poem for the 2009 examination.

The decision to withdraw the poem was not taken lightly and only after due consideration of the issues involved. We believe the decision underlines the often difficult balance that exists between encouraging and facilitating young people to think critically about difficult but important topics and the need to do this in a way which is sensitive to social issues and public concern.

Why did the poem raise public concern? Perhaps lines like these:

Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God...

.... I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

The poem references King Lear ( "as flies to wanton boys") and there are certainly plenty of sensitive social issues in Shakespeare. MacBeth, to pick the most obvious example from a long list, was a dab hand at knife crime. So can we, should we, expunge allusions to knife crime, even vague allusions as in this poem, from school anthologies?

Well back in 2005 in an unrelated discussion about a controversial poem, another listener wrote to us and said of Education for Leisure:

What sort of "literature" is this for 15 year olds to be asked to "study" for GCSE??

But others take a very different view, as you can read on these forums. where the decision was widely ridiculed.

Maybe they'll get rid of 'Of Mice & Men' because of gun crime.

What do you think?

UPDATE: There's background to the complaint that triggered the removal of the poem here. According to that article it suggests it followed a complaint from an invigilator, Pat Schofield. The Rugby Advertiser reported that the AQA at the time of her initial campaign, in July, said,

"When taught sensitively it enables schools to explore the contemporary social context and the psychological context surrounding the narrator of the poem alongside its literary merits"

UPDATE II Nick Seaton, Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education told us, "I'm not in favour of censorship but I think Education for Leisure is a cruel poem and doesn't deserve to be included in the AQA's anthology. When we've got so much magnificent poetry in the English language it seems wrong that this poem should be included. The poem is about irresponsible power over things and I can well imagine it will appeal to the baser instincts of some people. Education should be about lifting spirits. I don't think this poem has anything to recommend it."

UPDATE III Frankie asks about posting the whole poem online. We'd like to do that but while it can be easily found on the net, there are rights issues associated with posting it entire - we're working on them.

UPDATE IV Peter Strauss (Carol Ann Duffy's Literary Agent) told us: "This poem is pro education and anti violence. It is not glorifying violence in any way. Carol Ann Duffy is a vocational poet for the young. She gets children fired up about language and verse. She talks to more schoolchildren than I've ever met. She's encouraged more people to have a love of words and a love of education than anyone else I know."

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.