Friday 23 August 2019

'Predictability finally shown the door' as Heaney left off paper

Leaving Cert English

All smiles: Patricia Moscu, Ava Cashell, Charlotte Greene and Mia Thorpe after their English exams at Malahide College. Photo: COLIN O’RIORDAN
All smiles: Patricia Moscu, Ava Cashell, Charlotte Greene and Mia Thorpe after their English exams at Malahide College. Photo: COLIN O’RIORDAN
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Move over, Seamus Heaney! A new prescribed poet on the Leaving Cert block, Brendan Kennelly, turned up on Leaving Cert English Paper 2 at both levels, while the popular Nobel Laureate failed to make the appearance that many had anticipated.

However, Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) subject representative Liz Farrell said that while "everyone was saying [Sylvia] Plath and Heaney, you can't go by that".

She described the Kennelly question at higher level as "lovely". Plath was there too, as was Elizabeth Bishop and William Butler Yeats: "Two Irish and two women, that is rare enough," she said.

Kate Barry, an Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) representative, had "no pity for people" who get into the poet prediction game and says it is a matter of simple maths: "There are eight poets, four come up and you have to answer a question on one. If you do five, you are guaranteed at least one and are very likely to have a choice."

For Jim Lusby of the Institute of Education, Dublin, the non-appearance of Heaney, as well as the theme Mode in the Comparative Study question contributed to his view that "predictability was finally shown the door on the Leaving Cert higher-level English Paper 2".

But while their absence will have disconcerted the narrowly prepared candidate, he said they opened up more interesting opportunities for the more widely read student.

Overall, the paper was "not a test of your knowledge, but a test of your appreciation of the beauties and complexities of literature", he said. "It will have excited rather than fazed the widely read student, who is being rewarded by the current direction the English exam papers are taking".

Ms Farrell, who teaches at Coláiste Eoin, Hacketstown, Co Carlow, and Ms Barry, of Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy, Co Cork, both described the first option in the single text 'Macbeth' question as challenging. It invited candidates to discuss whether Shakespeare's "use of a variety of horrific, bizarre and unbelievable elements" did or did not heighten the play's tragic intensity. There were a lot of elements there, said Ms Farrell, but while she still felt more candidates would have opted for it, Ms Barry thought more would have gone for the second option.

Ms Barry said the ordinary-level paper was fine and Ms Farrell agreed it was "very doable" but added that while higher level is probing and discursive, ordinary level required detailed recall, "which is not simple".

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News