SCOTLAND’S Makar has launched an attack on how poetry is taught in schools, describing methods as “disgraceful” and blaming the way the subject is examined for putting children off the art form for life.

Liz Lochhead said the Scottish Government’s education policy Curriculum for Excellence, which seeks to foster creativity, and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which sets exam papers, were taking an over-analytical and technical approach that spoiled pupils’ enjoyment.

“Exams are the problem. The SQA is the problem. I don’t think they are examining what’s happening. Curriculum for Excellence was conceived in good faith as a way of making everybody’s education more creative,” she told The National.

“I’m not trying to demonise teachers here, but the SQA and Curriculum for Excellence are not having the desired effect. You don’t learn about poetry to make you hate poetry for the rest of your life, but the effect at the moment is that. We should face up to the fact that what we are doing is not working.”

She noted how the reading of the WH Auden poem Stop All the Clocks in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral had inspired people to read the poem at funerals and had reawakened an interest in the reciting of poetry.

Yet among schoolchildren, teaching methods still placed too much emphasis on “de-coding” the meaning of a poem written down, rather than encouraging pupils to read or listen to it being read out loud.

“The way poetry is taught at the moment is absolutely appalling,” she said. “Nowadays children learn one poem a term and do that poem to death. It’s disgusting. They teach poetry as a problem, rather than a joy, and that’s disgraceful.”

Lochhead reflected on how she was taught poetry when she was at school and said she learnt a number of poems by heart from the age of seven, including John Keats’s Old Meg She Was a Gypsy and Robert Burns’s To a Mouse, which instilled in her an early love of the art form.

“I think we have far too many teachers in secondary schools who don’t love poetry. If you don’t love it leave it alone. In my day, teachers taught what they loved and the love of it went into what they taught,” she said.

“It’s clear that even teachers think poetry is a code. I have been asked by a boy, who emailed me once: ‘when you wrote that poem about the bull, what did you really want to say?’ His education had allowed him to get the misapprehension that a poem is a code trying to get a message across.

“They don’t even get how funny Edwin Morgan and Norman McCaig are being half the time.”

She said she had read pupils’ essays with notes made by teachers that had used technical terms incorrectly and which must have baffled the pupils they were teaching.

“I’ve seen pages that have been annotated ... it’s all about technical aspects of poetry that these teachers do not even understand,” she said.

Lochhead, who was born in Motherwell and attended Glasgow School of Art, rose to prominence in the 1970s and her collections include Memo For Spring, The Grimm Sisters and Bagpipe Muzak.

She was appointed Makar in 2011. Also a playwright, she backed a new initiative to encourage teenagers to memorise two poems as part of a competition being run by the Edinburgh-based Scottish Poetry Library.

The organisation ran a pilot scheme last year and has now decided to open up the Poetry by Heart Scotland contest to secondary school pupils from next term. It is open to S4 to S6 pupils.

Entrants must memorise and recite two poems from a choice of hundreds. One must be published before 1914, one after 1914 and one must be by a Scottish poet.The first round takes place in schools and will be completed by October 9.

The SQA declined to comment on Lochhead’s remarks.

An Education Scotland spokesperson said: “Teachers take a variety of approaches to introduce and discuss poetry in ways that help learners develop an appreciation of the sound, rhythm and emotional impact it has through listening and speaking of poetry.

“The curriculum aims to promote enjoyment of literacy including poetry and a wide range of other texts to enhance learners vocabulary and benefit their overall development of literacy and English language skills.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Local authorities are responsible for delivering a balanced and relevant curriculum. Headteachers and teachers are expected to use their professional judgement, experience and understanding of pupils to help pupils develop an understating of literature, including poetry.”