Britain: Exam board accused of censorship

English PEN was shocked to hear of the recent decision by Britain’s biggest exam board, AQA, to remove Carol Ann Duffy’s poignant poem ‘Education for Leisure’ from the GCSE syllabus on the grounds that it contains references to knife crime.

According to Polly Curtis, education editor for The Guardian, “Officials at the AQA board said their request that schools destroy the anthology containing the Carol Ann Duffy poem Education for Leisure had been triggered by concerns in two schools about references to knives. A spokeswoman confirmed the decision had been made in the context of the current spate of knife-related murders.

But poets yesterday condemned the move, saying such “censorship” fundamentally missed the point of the poem, which they said could help children debate the causes of street violence.

Duffy, widely considered a front-runner to be the next poet laureate, yesterday declined to comment. But her literary agent, Peter Strauss, said: “It’s a pro-education, anti-violence poem written in the mid-1980s when Thatcher was in power and there were rising social problems and crime. It was written as a plea for education. How, 20 years later, it had been turned on itself and presented to mean the opposite I don’t know. You can’t say that it celebrates knife crime. What it does is the opposite.”

Lisa Appignanesi, President of English PEN, has today stated “If all references to knives, violence, crime had to be taken out of children’s sight, we would live in a world with little literature, less drama, and no television. To take Carol Ann Duffy’s fine poem, and one which captures a young person’s experience so closely, out of the syllabus is as pointless and retrograde as saying that we might rid ourselves of the more violent aspects of religion by banning Raphael.”

To read the full article, ‘Top exam board asks schools to destroy book containing knife poem’ by Polly Curtis, and the poem in question, Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Education for Leisure’, please click here.

To sign a petition launched in protest, please click here.

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