Welcome to the English Department

"Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience."

Rudine Bishop

English has a pre-eminent place in education and in society. We believe that a high-quality education in English will teach pupils to think critically and imaginatively, and to speak and write fluently so that they can communicate their ideas and emotions to others. All the skills of language are essential to participating fully as a member of society; through reading in particular, pupils have a chance to develop culturally, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually. Literature, especially, plays a key role in such development.

Our English curriculum is developed to equip our pupils with a strong command of the spoken and written word, and to develop their love of literature through widespread reading for pleasure. Only by immersing our pupils in rich reading materials can they develop their own language capacities – the depth of their vocabulary, their handling of grammatical structures, their comprehension skills, their ability to write with a strong voice, and with confidence and genuine expertise.

Toot Hill pupils will encounter challenging and thought-provoking texts in order to master the ideas, concepts and stories that have shaped the world. As literature is about the human experience, it is our conviction that the universal themes of literature are also the universal themes of writing more generally; knowledge of key literary domains also unlocks nonfiction. Our curriculum enables students to explore some of these themes through the systematic and cumulative layering of knowledge. For example, one of the themes we explore with students is power and its abuse; in Year 7 students learn about the Bumbles' corrupt abuse of their power in the study of Oliver Twist, Oberon’s use of the love potion to humiliate Titania develops their appreciation of the theme when they encounter A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Year 8, our pupils then learn about how Napoleon uses propaganda to create a cult of personality and become a tyrant in Animal Farm, whilst in The Tempest Prospero uses his magical powers as an instrument of torture and treachery. By the time students reach Key Stage 4, they are well placed to consider the exploitation of Bob Cratchit at the hands of Scrooge or Macbeth’s tyranny. These core themes are then drawn upon once again when students move onto study English at Key Stage 5.

In order to ensure students are able to be critical, evaluative and insightful readers, we carefully build in analytical skills. Throughout Key Stage 3, students are given many examples of these skills being demonstrated in different contexts and different ways. They are then provided with multiple opportunities to practice the skills themselves so that they develop the analytical skills necessary to tackle the rigours of GCSE and A Level English.

Our curriculum draws on a wide range of texts from different periods, places and traditions. Pupils study heritage texts from the literary canon in addition to being exposed to modern writers from diverse backgrounds in order to enhance their understanding of how great literature evolves. We want the texts we have chosen to both reflect reality for our pupils whilst also providing them with the opportunity to discover worlds less familiar in order to equip them for the modern world.

We aim to continue the ‘conversations’ had during past experiences of texts, making comparisons and drawing connections as we return to key concepts and practices. Ultimately, we want to foreground the knowledge which is unique to our subject. This knowledge allows pupils to learn how to read, think and write critically and with independence, and discover what it means to be a student of English.

The core ideas we focus on are listed here:

  • Knowledge about language – how it is used in context and how to read it closely and critically. We ask our pupils to consider the stylistic choices made by writers for particular purposes.
  • Knowledge needed to be able to communicate effectively, and in different contexts – through writing and speaking
  • Knowledge about how texts ‘work’. We ask students to explore characterisation, narrative voice, manipulation of genre, as well as the choices writers make about language, structure and form.
  • Knowledge about how texts were received in their own period, as well as in our own times. We ask our pupils to consider why particular texts are still popular, significant and relevant today.
  • Knowledge about how different readers approach the texts.
  • Knowledge of the historical or literary context of a text that genuinely throws light upon the text itself and allows pupils to make meaningful connections between a range of texts studied.
  • Knowledge of what questions and ideas are central to English studies at school and beyond, of what it means to study a text.

June 2021

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