Irish writers to be removed by English exam board

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

  • Published
Seamus HeaneyImage source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Seamus Heaney is among the Irish writers whose work will be removed by the OCR exam board

Works by Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel and Eavan Boland are set to be removed from A-level courses by an English exam board.

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

Seamus Heaney's poem Punishment has been removed from OCR's GCSE poetry anthology.

The exam board said it made the changes to offer more diversity.

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".

Punishment first appeared in 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.

'More diversity'

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.

Image caption,
The actor Stephen Rea with Brian Friel in rehearsal for the first production of Translations

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

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 replaced by plays from Nina Raine and Inua Ellams.

The changes mean that Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal and the Wilde play will be the only texts by Irish writers remaining on OCR's English Language and Literature A-Level.

'New, diverse texts'

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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