Poet Laureate calls for 'creative time' in secondary curriculum

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The Independent Online

Poetry and creative writing are being squeezed out of secondary schools because of the Government's failure to make time in the curriculum for creativity, Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, has warned.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Motion said the Government had missed an "almost magical opportunity" to rescue poetry in secondary schools from oblivion. The laureate, who has been a fervent champion of poetry in schools, said he had been "bitterly disappointed" that recommendations from the former chief inspector of schools, Sir Mike Tomlinson, had been rejected by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary.

The shake-up of the curriculum and exams proposed in the Tomlinson reforms would have provided a unique chance for the Government to set aside lesson time for creative writing and poetry, Motion said. They had disappeared "almost entirely" from the secondary curriculum, particularly at GCSE level, where the focus was on exams as a result of the pressure of league tables

"At primary school level the situation is all completely healthy," he said. "But as children get into secondary school and come up for GCSE, the culture of learning and creative time disappears almost entirely from the curriculum.

"These incredibly important opportunities - in the sense that it will help them with their studies, as well as its larger, more 'top of the mountain' ideas about humanity - are lost."

Motion was speaking at an awards ceremony for Writing Together, a scheme that he helped launch, which sends writers and poets into schools. It was created in 2001 because of concerns over standards of writing in schools and to inject more creativity. It sent 200 writers into 170 schools this year.

Motion said most English teachers wanted to spend time on creative writing, but would remain afraid to do so until the Government made it an official requirement. "If a certain amount of time was set aside specifically for creativity then at the very worst young people would have the opportunity to choose whether poetry is for them," he said. "At the moment young people do not have that choice."

"The Tomlinson report was an opportunity for a radical rethink," he said. "There was almost a magical opportunity for creative time to be written down and described for teachers so that they felt that time spent on creativity was officially permitted and that they were not somehow betraying their pupils."

Motion said he had been disappointed at the level of education debate by Ms Kelly since the election.

"Once the general election was called the only conversation about education during the campaign was about keeping order," he said. "Now the only debate is about Kelly's hours.

"Where is the big thinking? There was a moment but it seems to have been lost, this is from a government that claimed to put education at the top of its agenda.

"Somebody has to be very practical about it and say that there has to be a change. Otherwise the kind of thing that Writing Together does is only ever going to be an add-on in the curriculum. In these circumstances it will be the schools that are up against the wall that are going to abandon creativity."

A department spokeswoman said yesterday: "We would like to see creativity embedded in both teaching and learning throughout the education system. All national curriculum subjects provide opportunities to promote pupils' creative and cultural development."