The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) and Macmillan Children's Books (MCB) are launching The Big Amazing Poetry Project in response to findings from their new research into how poetry is taught, and resourced, in primary schools.
The Big Amazing Poetry Project has been set up to address findings from their research into Poetry teaching and learning, and resourcing, in primary schools: Poetry in Primary Schools 2023, .
The project seeks to embed poetry fully both into classrooms and also in children's choices when reading for pleasure. This summer, it will deliver professional training to 30 primary school teachers from schools in the UK, provided by CLPE's Literacy Library in London and poets Valerie Bloom and Matt Goodfellow.
Poetry in Primary Schools 2023
Research was carried out with primary school teachers in the UK in January 2023 to find out more 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. This was the first major research solely focused on poetry in primary schools published since Poetry in Schools (Ofsted, 2007).
The results revealed that while most teachers (80%) feel poetry is a significant part of a literacy curriculum, 61% of teachers have never had development training on poetry. Most teachers plan their own units of poetry with support coming from outside their school, but the survey suggests that poetry is read aloud less than once a week in 93% of schools. There is also limited poetry choice in classes; 79% of classroom book corners have fewer than ten poetry books in their book selection.
This is despite very positive attitudes to poetry in the classroom; the research found that 88% of teachers said that children enjoy engaging with poetry; 89% reported that children enjoyed listening to it being read or performed; and 72% reported that they enjoyed performing it themselves.
A 'gateway' to becoming literate
Previous research carried out by CLPE shows that it is a crucial genre for bridging the most prominent gaps for pupils and helps to level up literacy education. It supports understanding language and vocabulary, reading fluency, inference and deduction, and the ability to respond to and decode texts. Poetry is a transformative and vital branch of literature and its short form also offers access to those pupils who find reading for pleasure something that doesn't come easily to them.
Matt Goodfellow, CLiPPA-shortlisted poet and course leader on The Big Amazing Poetry Project, said, "When exposed on a daily basis to poetry, children begin to understand that poets play with thoughts, feelings and ideas in their own unique voice - and it's something they can also do, too."
Limited knowledge of poetry
Despite the enthusiasm for including poetry in the classroom, with little or no training available for teachers to develop a best practice for teaching poetry, and low awareness of poets and new poetry publications that are likely to appeal to children today, teachers' knowledge of children's poets has not significantly developed since the results reported in Teachers as Readers (Cremin et al, 2007.)
The best known poets to primary school teachers in 2023 are poets that teachers would have been likely to encounter in their own schooling, the survey found, including Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah and Joseph Coelho, the current Waterstones Children's Laureate. When teachers were asked to name any poems for children that they could recall, the most recent of these poems was 'Talking Turkeys' by Benjamin Zephaniah, published in 1994. The most well-known poem was 'Chocolate Cake' by Michael Rosen, which was published in 1985.
Louise Johns-Shepherd, chief executive of CLPE, said: "This research report shows just how important our poetry work with primary schools is. Children love poetry, it is the gateway to literacy for so many young readers and writers, and the research highlights the real need for teacher training, access to poetry books and the impact of working with real life poets."
The project culminates in July with the CLiPPA (the Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award). This is the only award for published children's poetry in the UK and celebrates its 20th year in 2023. The Schools Shadowing Scheme that runs alongside welcomes schools across the UK, with this year's programme including an exclusive online shortlist event, to bring poets into the shadowing schools' classrooms. They also have access to free teaching resources for the shortlisted books.