cultural vandalism | 

Irish writers removed by English exam board to make room for ‘diverse authors’

Seamus Heaney's poem Punishment has also been removed from the GCSE poetry anthology by the exam board that said it made the changes to offer more diversity.
Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney© PA

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

Works by some of Ireland's best known and lauded poets and writers are being removed by an English exam board

Seamus Heaney Brian Friel and Eavan Boland are among those set to be scrapped from A-level courses by the OCR exam board.

Seamus Heaney's poem Punishment has also been removed from the GCSE poetry anthology by the exam board that said it made the changes to offer more diversity.

The OCR said it was introducing "new texts by diverse authors" for its 2023 English Language and Literature A-Level.

Punishment first appeared in Nobel prize-winner Heaney's 1975 collection 'North', and compares the discovery of an ancient woman's body in a bog to "tarring and feathering" during the Troubles.

It was taught as part of the 'Conflict' section of OCR's English Literature GCSE anthology, but is being replaced for September 2022.

Poems by William Blake, Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owen and Jo Shapcott are among those also being removed from the Conflict section of the GCSE course.

Students taking the A-Level through OCR can currently study poems from Heaney's collection Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996 and Boland's New Collected Poems as part of their course.

The other poets on the course are William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Carol-Ann Duffy and Jacob Sam-La Rose.

They will remain on the revised A-Level but Heaney and Boland's work will be replaced in 2023 by poetry from Malika Booker and Fatimah Asghar.

Brian Friel's famous play Translations is also set to be removed from the plays section of the A-Level course.

Set in 19th century Donegal, it was first performed by the Field Day Theatre Company at the Guildhall in Londonderry in 1980.

Plays by Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams and Jez Butterworth will remain on the revised OCR A-Level.

However, Friel's drama and work by the British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker are to replace by plays from Nina Raine and Inua Ellams.

The changes mean that Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal is set to be the only text by an Irish writer remaining on OCR's English Language and Literature A-Level.

The Education Secretary in England Nadhim Zahawi said the removal of poems by Philip Larkin and Wilfred Owen from the same course was "cultural vandalism".

BBC News NI contacted OCR to ask why it had made the decision to remove the works but the exam board referenced a statement already on their website.

In a blog on their website OCR said the A-Level changes had been made to add "some new, diverse texts to our English qualifications".

"We will be replacing two of the least studied texts for both poetry and drama in Component 2 with some new texts by diverse authors," they said.

Seamus Heaney, who died in 2013 aged 74, grew up in Bellaghy, County Londonderry and won the Nobel prize for literature in 1995.

Known for his plays Translations, Dancing at Lughnasa and Philadelphia, Here I Come, Brian Friel died in 2015 aged 86.

Eavan Boland, who died in 2020, was one of Ireland's best known and lauded poets.

OCR is one of the biggest English exam boards and some schools in Northern Ireland take some of its qualifications

But it is not thought that any schools in Northern Ireland use it for English A-Level.

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