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Wilfred Owen and Philip Larkin’s GCSE removal is ‘cultural vandalism’ – Zahawi

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (PA)
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (PA)

The removal of poems by Philip Larkin and Wilfred Owen from a GCSE poetry anthology has been labelled “cultural vandalism” by the Education Secretary.

Nadhim Zahawi hit out on Thursday at the move by OCR, which is part of a wider reform of the exam board’s anthology.

He said he will be discussing the decision with OCR, one of the main examining bodies in the UK.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister would back Mr Zahawi raising the issue with the board.

Asked if the Education Secretary would have Boris Johnson’s support, a No 10 spokesman said: “Yes… we want to see children continuing to receive a broad range of education in these areas.”

The shake-up of the anthology offering, first reported by The Times, will see some poets such as Larkin and Owen make way for a more diverse range of literary voices.

Mr Zahawi used Twitter to condemn the decision, which will see the updated selection taught from September.

Launching the new set of poems, OCR said the anthology builds “on the diversity of the original anthology by offering more poems by contemporary and established poets of colour”.

The exam board said the poems to be replaced will have largely already been studied and assessed.

Mr Zahawi said: “Larkin and Owen are two of our finest poets. Removing their work from the curriculum is cultural vandalism.

“Their work must be passed on to future generations – as it was to me.

“I will be speaking to the exam board to make this clear.”

The Stratford-on-Avon MP used his own experience to advocate for the retention of older, better known British poets.

“As a teenager improving my grasp of the English language, Larkin’s poems taught me so much about my new home.

“We must not deny future students the chance to make a similarly powerful connection with a great British author, or miss out on the joy of knowing his work.”

William Blake, Emily Bronte, John Keats, Sylvia Plath and Carol Ann Duffy are among those established poets remaining in the OCR GCSE anthology.

New names include British-Jamaican poet Raymond Antrobus, as well as Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky.

Jill Duffy, OCR’s chief executive, called it an “inspiring set of poems that demonstrates our ongoing commitment to greater diversity in the English literature that students engage with”.