Schools in the UK have “limited poetry book stock” and there are “many barriers” to the teaching of poetry, new research has found, with teachers most familiar with poets that they themselves studied at school.
The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) and Macmillan Children’s Books carried out a survey of primary school teachers that found poetry is read aloud less than once a week in 93% of schools. In nearly 20% of schools, children never have the opportunity to hear a poem read aloud.
While 77% of teachers said that they taught poetry at least once per school term, the survey found that nearly a quarter of schools teach poetry only once a year or less, partly due to a lack of training and support for teachers.
The research is the first major look at poetry in primary schools since Poetry in Schools by Ofsted in 2007. CLPE and Macmillan’s research asked teachers – with responses primarily from England, but also a small number from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and internationally – about their experience of teaching poetry, including their attitudes to it, how much they know about poets and anthologies and how it is incorporated into a teaching day.
The research found that teachers’ knowledge of children’s poets had “not moved on” in the 16 years since the Ofsted report. Only current Waterstones Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho, Valerie Bloom and Julia Donaldson are new additions in this survey; the other poets named by teachers – Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, Spike Milligan, Roger McGough, Roald Dahl and Allan Ahlberg – were all also named in the 2007 survey.
“Many of the poets mentioned were poets that teachers would have been likely to encounter in their own schooling,” the survey found.
The most well-known poem by teachers was Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen, as performed by him on Youtube.
A majority of teachers said that they felt they didn’t have enough knowledge about poetry or experience of teaching it to do so, and there is also a lack of training for teachers when it comes to poetry.
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As well as difficulties with teaching, there is a lack of resources when it comes to poetry books, with the survey finding that in 79% of classrooms, the book corners contained fewer than 10 poetry books and in 44% of classrooms, the figure was five or less. This, said the research, was a “drastically low figure if you are trying to create an environment where children can see a range of poetry and types of poetry, giving them a broad perspective of what poetry is, what it could be and who it is written by”.
In response to the research, CLPE and Macmillan have launched The Big Amazing Poetry Project, which will deliver professional training to 30 primary school teachers from schools in the UK during the summer school term in 2023. Each school will also receive a free poetry library made up of titles from the Macmillan Children’s Books list and all CLPE schools will have access to free poetry resources based on MCB published poems and poets.