Former Makar Liz Lochhead lashes out on the teaching of her work in schools and the 'absolute idiots' at the SQA

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Liz Lochhead, one of Scotland’s leading poets, has criticised the teaching of her work in schools, branding the official exams body “absolute idiots” for their choices for the curriculum.

The former Scots Makar suggested that the Scottish Qualifications Authority had blundered by ignoring some of her earliest works in favour of poems which would not “make much sense” to teenagers.

Speaking on The Cultural Coven podcast, Lochhead suggested pupils were too young to properly understood poems she had written about the experiences of middle-aged women.

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She put forward The Choosing, one of the first poems she ever wrote as a Glasgow School of Art student – which was based on her school days in Lanarkshire - as an example of a poem she felt had been over-looked.

Her poems The Bargain, My Rival’s House, View of Scotland/Love Poem and Last Supper have all been part of the curriculum in recent years.

Asked about the teaching of her work in schools by podcast host Nicola Roy, Lochhead said: “They’ve picked five poems for the curriculum. Only some of them are ones I’d have picked.

“They’ve missed out a poem I wrote when I was 18, The Choosing.

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“Sometimes I’m sitting on a bus and somebody will say to me: ‘Did you write that poem about the girl you were at school with?’

Liz Lochhead was speaking on The Cultural Coven podcast. Picture: Toby WilliamsLiz Lochhead was speaking on The Cultural Coven podcast. Picture: Toby Williams
Liz Lochhead was speaking on The Cultural Coven podcast. Picture: Toby Williams

“The absolute idiots at the SQA have not picked that as one of the ones to be taught.

"One of them is just not a poem that makes much sense to people that are not 35-year-old women who are victims of the dating game.

“You don’t always write better when you get older. You have to keep doing it and hope you’ll hit another good one.

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“The Choosing was maybe the second or third poem that I ever wrote. I really did go to school with this girl Mary."I wrote it in first year in art school. I wrote poems down the side of my sketch books.

Nicola Roy presents The Cultural Coven podcast.Nicola Roy presents The Cultural Coven podcast.
Nicola Roy presents The Cultural Coven podcast.

"I thought: ‘What is this? It doesn’t go to the end of the line, so it’s not a story, it’s not a song, because it doesn’t have a tune and it doesn’t have any rhymes, except here and there, it must be a sort of poet thing.’“I kept thinking: ‘I hope I write more of these and I hope it doesn’t go away.’ It does go away and leave you at times, but you’ve got to fight to get it back.

"I write from things that I know or have observed in other people. When I wrote The Choosing I was already imagining someone speaking that poem who wasn’t quite me, who went to the library all the time and did nothing but read books. You can’t write about something that doesn’t interest you, that you’ve not observed in other people.”

A spokesman for the SQA hit back at Lochhead’s comments and said branding staff “idiots” was not acceptable.

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He said: “Liz Lochhead continues to be a popular poet for students to study for the Scottish Text section of Higher Critical Reading.

"The list of Scottish texts was refreshed in 2017 following feedback from teachers and lecturers on the texts they felt would be most appropriate. Teachers and lecturers are free to select any text for the critical essay section of the Higher English course.

“Ms Lochhead is entitled to her opinion but her reference to SQA staff as ‘absolute idiots’ is not acceptable. Our staff are hardworking educational professionals who are committed to ensuring that our qualifications allow learners to showcase and be rewarded for their skills and knowledge.”

Also on the podcast, Lochhead compared the case for Scottish independence with feminism and disowned former First Minister Alex Salmond, who had offered her the role of Scotland’s national poet in 2011.

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Asked about her long-time support of independence, Lochhead said: “I’m not a mad nationalist. I hate the nationalist bit of nationalism.

“Being responsible for yourself is akin to feminism to me. Feminism’s not about hating men. It’s about taking responsibility for your own complicity in certain things.

“I’ll be very much voting SNP, probably in both lists, because I’m definitely not voting for Alex Salmond. I’m not voting for that man in any way, shape or form.

"I don’t think we should hurry into another referendum till we’re well over Covid and I think Nicola Sturgeon won’t either.

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“I’m been full of admiration for the way she’s dealt with the pandemic and her honesty as a human being. I don’t think you can act honesty. I believe she cares about the things she talks about.”

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