Oswestry mayor 'disappointed' as Wilfred Owen removed from school curriculum

Oswestry's mayor says he is 'disappointed' by an exam board's decision to take one of the town's most famous son's war poems off the school curriculum.

Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen

The OCR have provoked a political storm by announcing the removal of Wilfred Owen from the poetry curriculum.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has denounced the move as " cultural vandalism" and has vowed to speak to the exam board.

Councillor Jay Moore, Oswestry's mayor, said: "Owen is certainly someone we are very proud of. Having his statue in Cae Glas Park is certainly a draw for people.

"Personally I hope the decision is a temporary thing and the exam board is looking at a cycle of poets and Owen will come back."

Oswestry mayor, Councillor Jay Moore

Councillor Moore added that he hoped local schools would still teach Owen's work, and said his approach to education is to keep it exciting, fresh, and new.

But he added that it is important to remember Owen's message of the reality of warfare, and to remember that the poet was "one of us".

"I would certainly encourage local schools to keep studying Owen as a local person," said Councillor Moore.

But he added that he didn't think even if Oswestry Town Council objected to the move that it would be listened to.

Oswestry-born Owen was killed on November 4, 1918, just days before the guns of the First World War fell silent on November 11. His life is marked in a statue in Oswestry and a memorial at Shrewsbury's Abbey.

He penned some of the most moving poems of trench warfare, including are Anthem for Doomed Youth, which is being removed from the GCSE curriculum from later this year.

Other poems being taken out are A Poison Tree, by William Blake; The Man He Killed, by Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney's Punishment, and Phrase Book, by Jo Shapcott.

OCR announced last week that it was putting 15 "exciting and diverse poems" into the GCSE English Literature this September.

In addition, OCR is also introducing more diverse texts to our A-level English Language and Literature, and to GCSE and A-levels in Media Studies, in September 2023.

Jill Duffy, OCR’s chief executive, said: “This is an inspiring set of poems that demonstrates our ongoing commitment to greater diversity in the English literature that students engage with. We’re also bringing in more diverse options for students in other subjects from 2023. Our approach is broad; we want to reflect diversity and inclusivity not just in our qualifications, but in the material we produce to support their delivery, as well as in the assessment of our qualifications.”

The addition of new names was welcomed by the Poetry Society.

Judith Palmer, The Poetry Society’s chief executive, said: “Poetry offers a vital place in the curriculum for young people to experience literature as an urgent living tradition exploring complex contemporary themes.

"It's fantastic to see this new selection of poems from OCR including poets from such a range of backgrounds and identities, writing in such diverse forms, voices and styles.

"We are sure young people will welcome the opportunity to study poems by some of the most striking new voices in contemporary poetry, alongside a refreshing selection of classic texts from diverse authors. These poems will speak powerfully to the experiences of young people today.”

But Education Secretary and Nadhim Zahawi criticised the decision.

He tweeted: "Larkin and Owen are two of our finest poets. Removing their work from the curriculum is cultural vandalism.

"Their work must be passed on to future generations - as it was to me. I will be speaking to the exam board to make this clear."

He added: "As a teenager improving my grasp of the English language, Larkin’s poems taught me so much about my new home.

"We must not deny future students the chance to make a similarly powerful connection with a great British author, or miss out on the joy of knowing his work."

Anthem for Doomed Youth:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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