English and the study of language is central to both underpinning the curriculum nationally and in Glenalmond College and in creating a platform for successful careers.
The study of great literature is not only enjoyable but also stimulating and challenging. Through texts, we can create a dynamic environment that introduces pupils to a wide variety of writers and their ideas. The subject promotes reading and writing skills as well as speaking and listening dexterity and through debate, discussion and writing, we aim to promote the higher order thinking skills that help to shape thinking pupils rather than passive receivers.
The Second Form follow a programme designed to promote good reading and writing skills and to prepare them towards the Third Form year. Each pupil will study a text per half term having had the opportunity to read the texts in the preceding holiday. At the heart of the study is the aim to foster an engagement and enjoyment of literature and language.
The Third Form will follow an intense and vigorous course built around five textual themes each having a base text for study. The course promotes a deep level introduction to the literary and critical skills necessary for study at GCSE. Study of English in this year provides an introductory focus to the level of work needed for GCSE whilst also developing and consolidating key skills in literacy and speaking and listening. Pupils will study, for example, Susan Hill’s spine-tingling classic, The Woman in Black, alongside a range of poetry and a Shakespeare unit, culminating in a Shakespeare project that allows them to explore one aspect of Shakespeare’s life and works.
We follow the CIE Certificate (IGCSE) in both Language (0500) and Literature (0486). Each pupil will be entered for both courses and will study towards two IGCSE grades. The Literature course will be centred on the study of one prose text, one drama text, one poetry collection and a range of unseen poetry. The Language course is based around unseen non-fiction passages with analytical and evaluative questions alongside a summary task (50%) as well as a Directed Writing and Composition paper involving narrative and descriptive writing alongside the writing of texts for a specific purpose and audience (50%). There is no coursework component in either subject. Although Speaking and Listening is not formally assessed as part of the IGCSE syllabus, our teaching focuses heavily on these key skills, integrating them into classroom activities.
The A-Level is built around three units over two years. We follow OCR English Literature, which consists of two examined units and one coursework unit. Firstly, Drama and Poetry pre-1900 features the in-depth study of a Shakespeare play such as The Tempest, alongside a comparative focus on a separate play and a collection of poetry. This might involve a comparison of Victorian poet Christina Rossetti’s works alongside Webster’s gory revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, or perhaps Chaucer’s ‘The Merchant’s Tale’ alongside Ibsen’s realist classic, A Doll’s House. The second examined unit focuses on the gothic genre, studying two texts in depth whilst also investigating the genre as a whole. Examples of texts studied for this unit are Bram Stoker’s quintessentially gothic Dracula, Angela Carter’s revisionist The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Both of the examination units count for 40% each of the final grade.
The coursework unit consists of the study of one poetry collection, one prose text and one drama text. These texts are selected by the staff teaching this unit and are drawn from the particular areas of interest that staff have. Pupils have to produce a critical reading of one text and then write a comparative essay of the other two texts, drawing upon contextual and critical information to explore not only the production of the texts but also different ways of reading those texts. Examples of texts taught for this unit are Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall and Skirrid Hill by Owen Sheers. The coursework unit is an exciting opportunity for pupils to work with teachers to identify and explore texts independently, which allows them to develop vital skills for study later on in life. The coursework unit counts for 20% of the final grade.
The Department participates in the Poetry by Heart competition, and we have had pupils competing in the finals of this prestigious event.
As and when we can, we take groups to the theatre or cinema for live play screenings and once a year we take the Lower Sixth for a weekend in Stratford Upon Avon to support the study of Shakespeare as part of the A Level syllabus. It is our aim to give all Sixth Form pupils studying English Literature the chance to see productions they are studying or that will support their study twice each year.
Maintaining close links to the library, we are proud to help run The Reading Challenge to help promote reading for pleasure; the scheme has been a great success in getting pupils to develop their reading for pleasure and to introduce them to the importance of reading around the subject.
We are very successful in national writing competitions and have sent many pupils towards prizes and national finals.
The department has a good track record of sending pupils to university to study English in some form and it has been successful in sending pupils to Oxbridge.
Having studied English at Bristol University, John Hathaway pursued postgraduate study in the area of postcolonialism before taking a PGCSE course and entering the world of teaching. He has worked in a number of different educational environments, including Further Education and an International School in Bolivia, before entering the independent sector. Prior to working at Glenalmond, he was Second in Department at King’s School Gloucester.
His literary interests include postcolonial texts, Victorian novels and poetry and gothic literature.