Shelley said ‘poets are the world’s unrecognized legislators’ but politicians may be more powerful after the education secretary attacked the removal of poems by Philip Larkin and Wilfred Owen from a GCSE course as “cultural vandalism” and called for their restoration.

Nadhim Zahawi has denounced a decision by the OCR Examination Board to replace two works by Larkin and Owen from next year with a more diverse range of authors, to be studied as part of his English Literature course GCSE.

“Larkin and Owen are two of our best poets. Removing their work from the school curriculum is cultural vandalism,” Zahawi said on social media. Their work should be passed on to future generations – as it was for me. I will speak to the examination board to clarify this.

As a teenager improving my understanding of the English language, Larkin’s poems taught me a lot about my new home.

We must not deprive future students of the opportunity to establish an equally powerful connection with a great British author, nor miss out on the joy of knowing their work.

— Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) June 23, 2022

Zahawi added: “As a teenager improving my understanding of the English language, Larkin’s poems taught me a lot about my new home. We must not deprive prospective students of the opportunity to make an equally powerful connection with a great British author, or miss out on the joy of learning about their work. »

OCR – part of Cambridge University Press & Assessment – said it was revising the list of poets reviewed to “replace certain Victorian and 20th century poems which have become too familiar through the assessment process, or which turned out to have unexpected difficulties or seemed less accessible to students. »

Larkin’s poem An Arundel Tomb will no longer be included in the “love and relationships” section of the GSCE anthology, while Owen’s anthem for young convicts will disappear from the “conflict” section. The poems of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron and Emily Dickinson will remain. The anthology was first compiled in 2015.

New authors include British-Jamaican poet Raymond Antrobus and Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky, whose poem We Lived Happily During War is included in the conflict theme. Kaminsky recently published a collection of reports from poets whose homes were occupied or attacked by Russian forces during their invasion of Ukraine.

Zahawi has previously told how he arrived in the UK with poor command of English after his family fled Iraq as refugees in the late 1970s.

In a recent interview he said: “I couldn’t understand the Telegraph because my English wasn’t good enough. But I started reading the Sun and it helped me improve my reading. He then graduated from Imperial College London with a degree in chemical engineering.

The OCR said 15 new poems were included, 30 retained, and 15 removed from the previous anthology.

“Our anthology for GCSE English Literature students will feature many poets who have never been on the GCSE curriculum before and will represent diverse voices, from living poets of Anglo-Somali, Anglo-Guyanese and Ukrainian descent” , said the OCR in its announcement.

“Of the 15 poets whose work has been added to GCSE English Literature, 14 are poets of color. Six are black women, one is of South Asian descent. Our new poets also include disabled and LGBTQ+ voices .

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Judith Palmer, Executive Director of the Poetry Society, said: “It is fantastic to see this new selection of poems from the OCR comprising poets from such varied backgrounds and identities, writing in such forms, voices and such diverse styles.

“We are sure that young people will appreciate the opportunity to study poems by some of the most striking new voices in contemporary poetry, alongside a refreshing selection of classic texts by diverse authors. These poems will powerfully speak to the experiences of young people today.

Earlier, Zahawi had called teachers’ unions’ threats of industrial action over pay “irresponsible”.

“Our young people have suffered more disruption than any generation that came before them, and making it worse now, as the recovery is in full swing and families think about their next big step after school or college, would be unforgivable and unjust,” Zahawi said. written in the Telegraph.