Removing Larkin and Owen poems for GCSE is 'cultural vandalism', Nadhim Zahawi says

Rupert Evelyn reports after the education secretary criticised the exam board's decision

The education secretary has criticised the removal of selected poems by Philip Larkin and Wilfred Owen from a GCSE course as “cultural vandalism”.

Nadhim Zahawi hit out on Thursday at the move by OCR, part of a wider reform of the exam board’s anthology, which will include a more diverse range of authors from next academic year.

Owen - who died in 1918 during WWI - was famous for his work exploring the brutal reality of conflict, while Coventry-born Larkin often wrote about commonplace experiences from a modern perspective.

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.

In a statement of intent backed by Downing Street, Mr Zahawi said that he will be discussing the decision with OCR, one of the main examining bodies in the UK.

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

“Larkin and Owen are two of our finest poets. Removing their work from the curriculum is cultural vandalism," he wrote. “Their work must be passed on to future generations – as it was to me."

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.

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”.