Head of Department

Mr O Johnson

Teaching Staff

Mr T Fell
Mr B Fearnley

Mrs H Mars

Mrs E Sayers

Mrs C Day

Contact Us

Email department

Use the form below to contact us directly.


Our aim is to teach students to communicate effectively orally and in writing; to develop students' enjoyment of reading and their ability to read closely and critically.

"We encourage you to find your voice," says Mr Fearnley. Hear what else he has to say here:

Aims of the department:

To teach students to communicate effectively orally and in writing; to develop students' enjoyment of reading and their ability to read closely and critically.

Summary of subject content

Students study the inter-related skills of reading, writing and speaking and listening. Our teaching has a strong literary focus with teachers being encouraged to teach from a rich range of texts which, if not canonical, are of established literary reputation.

All students are entered for GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature at the end of the 5th year (NC year 11). Students choosing to continue their study of English at KS5 have the option of studying English Literature and/or Theatre Studies at A Level.

Lower school (KS3)

The teaching of English at Key Stage 3 is based on the National Curriculum Framework for English, suitably adapted to the abilities of our pupils, who read a wide range of texts – poetry, prose and drama, fiction and non-fiction. In addition, we develop and extend their writing skills, practising a wide range of different kinds of writing while also reinforcing and developing the core literacy skills through weekly sessions targeting these skills.

In Year 7 pupils have a dedicated library-based lesson once a week. This lesson is taught by a fully qualified librarian, and develops pupils’ independent research and information retrieval skills.

Pupils also enjoy a wide range of speaking and listening activities, both as individuals and in groups. As part of this programme, students also cover a range of topics related to drama, both through the study of drama texts but also through workshop style activities and through devising their own pieces of drama.

As well as doing a number of set pieces of oral and written work each year, pupils in all years have a formal end-of year examination in English.

At Key Stage 3 we adopt a thematic approach: each term students will study a range of texts from a range of periods and genres based around a specific theme.

The current themes studied at KS3 are as follows:

1st Year

  • Man and the Natural World
  • A Window on the Past
  • Conflict
  • Project work (including lots of speaking and listening and drama work)

2nd Year

  • Growing Up
  • Heroes and Villains
  • Perspectives on Places
  • Education

3rd Year

  • Dark Times, Dark Places, Dark Minds
  • Shakespearean Comedy
  • Satire
  • Responding to the Holocaust and its Legacy
  • America

The overall aim of the English Department's KS3 programme is to prepare all pupils for a smooth transition to the study of English and English Literature for GCSE.

Upper school (KS4/GCSE)

Full details of reading lists, study guides and recommended web links for current students can be found on the English section of the RGS Cloud.

Key Stage 4 English is based on the National Curriculum Framework for English, suitably adapted to the abilities of our students. Pupils study a wide range of texts – poetry, prose and drama, fiction and non-fiction. Our course is integrated and teaches both the English language and English literature components together.

Exam board/division of exam and coursework: AQA specifications for English Language and English Literature.

4th and 5th Year Course – The new AQA GCSE specifications 

Following the reform of GCSEs in England, all new GCSEs are linear in structure and assessment is entirely by examination (Controlled Assessment and coursework no longer feature or contribute towards students’ final grades).

We follow the AQA courses in English Language and English Literature. The courses are taught in an integrated way through the two years of the course with all examinations taken at the end of the 5th year (NC year 11).

English Language

  • Paper 1: Explorations in Creative Reading and Writing – pupils respond to 4 questions on an unseen literary text (probably an extract from a novel) in the Reading section of the paper and one writing question in the second section of the paper. The paper lasts 1 hour 45 minutes and is worth 50% of the GCSE grade.
  • Paper 2: Writers’ Viewpoints and Perspectives – pupils respond to two unseen texts, one of which will be from the nineteenth century, before responding to one writing question which requires them to engage with a stated view on a particular issue. The paper lasts 1 hour 45 minutes and is worth 50% of the GCSE grade.
  • Non-Examined Assessment: Spoken Language – through the duration of the two year course pupils are assessed on their ability to present and discuss ideas through a variety of speaking and listening exercises. They will be given a grade to recognise their level of achievement but this will not contribute to the overall grade in GCSE English Language.

English Literature

  • Paper 1 – Shakespeare and the 19th Century Novel – pupils study a Shakespeare play and a novel from the 19th century (e.g. Romeo and Juliet and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol). Both texts are assessed in a closed book examination which lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes. This examination is worth 40% of the total GCSE grade.
  • Paper 2 – Modern Texts and Poetry – pupils study a modern novel or play from a list of set texts plus a collection of poetry from the GCSE AQA anthology. These texts are assessed in a closed book examination that lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes; there is also a section on two unseen poems in the examination. This paper is worth 60% of the total GCSE grade.

Head of English Mr Johnson says English literature is a fascinating subject of ideas with no limits to what you might discover about yourself

A Level – New A Level Specification 

Exam boards: English Literature: AQA – Specification A

Full details of reading lists, study guides and recommended web links for current students can be found on the English section of the RGS Cloud.

The AQA A specification approaches texts through the lens of historicism. This means that the course encourages students to study a range of texts with shared historical contexts. In the ‘Love through the Ages’ unit texts are studied diachronically (looking at texts produced across a very broad time period) while in the ‘Modern Times’ texts are studied synchronically (looking at texts produced in a clearly defined time period). This means that instead of studying a small list of set texts in closed isolation, pupils are encouraged to read more widely and teachers are empowered to branch out in their teaching drawing on a wide range of texts and ideas. Such wider reading will help to prepare pupils for the unseen elements which are a compulsory element in the new A Level specifications as well as broadening and enriching the course.

Course content – A Level English Literature

At the start of the course students embark on a crash course in literary criticism as they are introduced to different modes of reading literary texts, including Marxist, feminist and psychoanalytical approaches. In exploring these different critical theories students will encounter a range of texts which will stretch their experience beyond the confines of the list of set texts while developing some of the fundamental skills that will underpin much of their work in the coming two years. Throughout the course students will regularly engage with a range of supplementary literary texts that will help revise these skills and prepare students for the unseen analysis required in the final examinations.

Three of the set texts will be studied in the first year of the course, including the Shakespearean drama for the Love Through the Ages paper (usually this is Shakespeare’s battle of the sexes The Taming of the Shrew). Students also study two texts from the Modern Times paper: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Owen Sheers’ 2005 collection of verse Skirrid Hill. All of these texts are studied against the wider social, cultural, political and literary history in which they were produced and are received: for the Modern Times paper, this means reflecting on the rapid social, cultural and political changes which have shaped the modern world since the end of the Second World War.

Towards the end of the first year students begin to work on their Non-Examined Assessment (coursework) essay. Students must write a 2500 word essay on two texts, one of which must have been written before 1900. Students are given support and guidance and detailed reading lists, but they are encouraged to embrace the freedom and independence this element of the course affords. This is the part of the course where the students can select the texts they wish to study and the precise focus of their essays. The reading and research for the NEA continues over the summer so that students can return in the U6th ready to draft and complete their final essays in the autumn term.

As well as seeing students complete their NEA essays, the second year of the course also sees them engage with some of the more challenging set texts, including Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and the AQA anthology of Post-1900 Love Poetry (both studied for the Love Through the Ages course), as well as Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (the final text on the Modern Times paper).

In the final stages of the course all of the set texts are thoroughly revised and there is a concerted effort on the exam skills and technique required to ensure students’ success in the summer.

Overview of A Level Assessment:

Paper 1 – Love through the ages (40% of A Level course, 3 hours, open book in section C). Typical texts: The Taming of the Shrew – Shakespeare; Wuthering Heights – Bronte; AQA Anthology of Post 1900 Poetry.

Paper 2 – Modern Times (40% of A Level course, 2½ hours, open book). Typical texts: The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood; Skirrid Hill – Owen Sheers; A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams.

Non-Examined Assessment (20% of A Level course, 2500 word comparative essay). Students must study two literary texts, at least one of which must have been written before 1900.

Set arrangements

At Key Stage 3 English is taught to pupils in their in form groups. We believe that this helps to develop the feelings of trust and consistency that will allow students to be confident in their exploration of challenging literary texts and the issues they raise; it also helps to support pupils as we encourage them to express themselves, whether through their creative writing or through drama and other speaking and listening tasks.

There is no setting at KS4. However, as English is blocked on the school timetable, this means that all forms are taught English in the same periods each week, thus allowing us some flexibility if some degree of setting were to be introduced (for example after mock examinations in the 5th year).

There is no setting at KS5.

Trips, special projects, extra-curricular clubs/activities:

There is a wide range of opportunities in drama for pupils and students of all ages: the Junior Drama club meets weekly after school on Mondays and puts on a full-scale performance once a year. There is also a full Senior production each year.

In addition the department encourages and supports pupils in their participation in competitions such as the Poetry By Heart competition and the English Union Mace and School’s Challenge competitions.

Wherever possible theatre trips are arranged to support our teaching in the classroom. Recent trips have included trips to Newcastle Theatre Royal to see the RSC production of Romeo and Juliet, our annual trip to the Bronte Parsonage Museum with our Sixth Form students and a GCSE trip to see J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls.  In addition we have visiting theatre companies and performers who come into the school to run performances and workshops with our pupils.

Additional information:

All English and drama lessons throughout the school are taught by subject specialists. Teachers have the freedom to teach to their strengths, and to teach texts which they enjoy. We use a wide range of literature in our teaching, and benefit from a well-stocked library and the ability to work closely with the school librarian.

Career Opportunities

The study of English Literature develops a rich range of skills which are valued by both employers and university admissions tutors. In particular the subject will develop communication skills (both written and oral), skills of debate and argument, analytical skills and the skills of close reading. In addition pupils are encouraged to be independent thinkers and learners and their research skills will also be developed.

Pupils interest in careers such as Law, Journalism, Teaching, Management and Marketing would all benefit from the skills developed by English. However, beyond these careers, English remains one of the most respected and valuable subjects at A Level. A high grade in English Literature will open a great many doors.


There is a wide range of websites which support students' work in English, and teachers will inform students about these when it is relevant. They are also listed on the OLIVER system in the library.

General online resources are the BBC Bitesize Revision site and the AQA site for reference about courses and assessment at examination level.

Current students can access web links, revision resources and other materials through the English section of the RGS Cloud.