This year AQA have made significant changes to their English/English Literature GCSE syllabi. Not only have controlled assessments replaced coursework but we have a new poetry anthology which is most welcome. Instead of having a selection of poems from other cultures (rather variable in quality in my opinion), four chosen poets plus a selection of pre 1914 poems(again rather randomly chosen), this year we have poems organised into four themes or clusters. I’m sure most teachers and tutors will welcome a fresh choice of poems to teach – after five years of teaching the previous anthology it was hard to summon up quite the same level of enthusiasm!
So far I only have pupils studying two of the clusters – conflict and character/voice but the collection of poems in both these seems to be engaging pupils. I think the poems included in the place cluster look particularly interesting. This year the exam includes a question comparing two poems – one named and one chosen – plus a question on an ‘unseen’ poem.
Pupils are finding tackling an unseen poem quite a challenge as this is something they are unused to. In the past teachers have given them notes on the set poems from the anthology which can then be learnt and (hopefully!) reproduced in the exam. The unseen tests their analytical skills and is certainly useful preparation for those students planning to take English at A level or beyond.