Leaving Cert English: Detail on Paul Durcan a challenge in an hour

Relief as contemporary Irish poet appears but teacher queries range required

Students were asked to cover too much detail in too short a time during this year year's higher level English paper, said Jim Lusby, a teacher at the Institute of Education in Dublin.

Every year, students guess and gamble as to which poets will feature on the paper, which is one of the most intense and high-pressured of all Leaving Cert exams.

This time around, there was widespread relief when Irish poet Paul Durcan appeared, alongside Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop and TS Eliot, although some students had expected WB Yeats to appear in the 1916 centenary year.

Mr Lusby said that, while nothing unexpected appeared in terms of content, the paper contained remarkably specific and detailed questions.

The character of the paper is best illustrated by the question set on the most widely anticipated poet, Paul Durkan, which required candidates to discuss three distinct aspects: “narrative approach”, “a variety of issues” and “great emotional honesty”.

“It must be asked whether this approach is asking too much of 1,000 word essays written in 50 or 60 minutes.”

Anne Gormley, an English teacher at Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ, had a different view.

“It was absolutely superb. In general, in all sections, the questions are very straightforward and clear.

“It is lovely to see the contemporary poet Paul Durcan with a question on emotional honesty.

“The comparative section, which is generally the most intimidating, was very accessible, and the literary genre questions were clear and uncomplicated.”

Emily Dickinson

Conor Murphy, who teaches English at Rossa College in Skibbereen, said that the different aspects of a question on Emily Dickinson might have been harder for the weaker students.

Students taking the higher level paper were required to compare three texts.

Mr Murphy's class studied the script for the film Citizen Kane, King Lear and Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go.

He particularly liked a question on how power dynamics help to reveal the context of a culture, which gave students space to explore gender, class structure and cultural relations.

A question on Shakespeare's King Lear, which asked students to examine how he and the character of Gloucester become heroic figures, was broadly praised by all three teachers.

Oisín McCaffrey, a student at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, found the King Lear very fair and approachable.

On the ordinary level paper, Mr Murphy said that the questions were accessible and straightforward, although one, which asked students to “compare how successful you find the relationships you discussed”, was oddly phrased.

He said that there was a good choice of poems, particularly by Elizabeth Bishop, who students tend to either love or hate.

Mr Lusby said that it was “a comfortable examination paper for the well-prepared student, without confusion or surprises.”