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Poetry panic as Heaney and Plath fail to show

THE glaring absence of the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney from the English Paper 2, higher level, reinforces the message that to assume is just folly, teachers warned.

Many teachers described it as a tough and challenging, and reported that examiners had narrowed the focus of this year's questions.

Poetry prompted the most comment. Jim Lusby, from the Institute of Education at Leeson Street, Dublin, said: "We need to think again about how poetry is examined at Leaving Certificate level."

He described this year's unseen poem 'The Beautiful Lie' by Sheenagh Pugh as a "poor example" of verse.

"The related questions were standard. A disappointing and uninspiring section," he said.

The questions relating to the poetry of Philip Larkin and Thomas Kinsella also came in for criticism.

The ASTI's Michael Doherty from Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana, Co Donegal, said the prescribed poetry caused the most anxiety.

"The biggest disappointment was that Seamus Heaney didn't appear or Plath was the other option that they banked on. Everyone of the questions were very specific," Mr Doherty said. He said students often seemed to get fixated on particular poets coming up despite repeated warnings.

Alan Thompson of the TUI and Abbey Vocational School, Donegal town, also reported surprise and disappointment with the poetry section.

"I felt the paper was a little on the tough side I don't think it gives any marks away cheaply," he said.

Mr Lusby said the questions relating to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' were excellently phrased. Mr Thompson felt the question on Hamlet's character was "reasonable and fair" and many students would have opted for it.

"The expected aspects of the play were examined; the character of Hamlet and the theme of corruption. No complaints, no shocks," Mr Lusby said.

On the comparative study, which is worth a large chunk of marks, a number of teachers felt the focus of the questions was narrow, which students may have found difficult.

Mr Doherty said he was disappointed with the higher level paper overall.

"To me they were asking too much, bearing in mind they are 17 years of age on average. The students came out anxious, it was hard to be positive after it," he said.

The ordinary level paper was judged to be very reasonable and well received by students.

Mr Doherty said the questions on the text followed a predictable pattern, while students had easily engaged with Seamus Heaney's poem about childhood 'A Constable Calls'.

Mr Doherty felt the unseen poem by Naomi Shihab Nye 'Shoulders' was a lovely one for ordinary level that students would have found easy to decipher as it was about relevant themes such as helping each other and solidarity.

A "much kinder paper", was Mr Thompson's verdict.

Irish Independent