All pupils receive lessons in English from Year 7 through to Year 11, and take IGCSEs in both English Language and English Literature. English Literature is then an option at A Level.
In Years 7, 8 and 9, pupils study a wide range of literature from all genres and periods. This involves a mix of poetry, prose and drama, and covers writing from Chaucer to the present day, including a Shakespeare play every year. They also have dedicated language lessons every week, which cover everything from technical areas such as grammar and punctuation to a wide range of writing skills. The girls also enjoy having dedicated reading time every week.
At IGCSE, the girls follow the Edexcel Language A course. They consolidate their handling of grammar and syntax, and apply these skills in a variety of writing styles, both transactional and creative. They study non-fiction, including media, travel writing and autobiography, and learn to analyse unseen texts. They also study a selection of poetry and prose writers, including Wilfred Owen and Benjamin Zephaniah.
At IGCSE, the girls follow the Edexcel course, which covers all three major literary genres. In poetry the girls encounter a variety of writers, including John Keats, Carol Ann Duffy and John Agard. For prose, they conduct an in-depth study of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and for drama they study Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. They also learn the skills of unseen analysis.
At A Level, the girls follow the OCR course. They study a range of literature from across the ages, including Shakespeare, Webster and Milton, as well as a coursework unit in twentieth and twenty-first century writers such as Tennessee Williams, Ian McEwan, and Carol Ann Duffy. They also complete a detailed study of the Gothic genre, which includes a wide range of reading from the late 18th century to the present. In addition to studying the texts themselves, the girls look closely at contextual influences and critical history.
Beyond the classroom
Theatre trips are a regular feature of life in the department. Recent performances we have seen include The Duchess of Malfi at the Almeida Theatre, An Inspector Calls, Betrayal, Endgame starring Daniel Radcliffe, Macbeth at the Globe Theatre, Hamlet at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, and Ian McKellen’s one man show Ian McKellen on Stage. The NT Live Society goes to see live streamed theatre in local cinemas several times a term, including in recent months Present Laughter, One Man, Two Guv’nors, Small Island, All My Sons, and an evening with Margaret Atwood.
Reading is an important part of the girls’ day, and there is an enthusiastic independent reading culture in the school. In addition to dedicated reading time in lessons, every girl has 15 minutes of reading time before bed, called ‘Little Lights’. There are two pupil-driven Reading Groups, one for younger girls, and another run by senior girls for the Sixth Form, and an annual Book Fair, at which older girls recommend books they have loved to younger girls. The Library is well stocked with contemporary and classic fiction, and is open throughout the day, including on weekends.
The Debating Society meets every week, and is open to girls in Years 9 and above. The girls develop their skills by debating a new motion each week. The Society competes in friendly debates with other local schools each term, and enters four teams into the annual Oxford Schools Debating Competition.
Public Speaking takes place in both junior and senior formats. Teams compete in the Rotary Youth Public Speaking Competition every year, as well as in the annual House competition judged by an external adjudicator.
The Creative Writing Club meets every week. Workshops are run by members of staff, and give the girls the opportunity to experiment with the writing of both prose and poetry. There is an annual Poetry Competition in Year 9 which all girls enter. Younger girls take part in annual poetry workshops with a visiting poet.
Journalism is a popular activity, and is run entirely by the girls. They produce a weekly broadsheet of topical news items, called The Paper. They also produce a more substantial termly magazine called WHAT, which contains a mixture of news and feature journalism, and is sold for charity.