English is a core element of the curriculum which develops knowledge and skills essential to everyday life. The importance of the subject cannot be overestimated, as performance at GCSE level is taken into account by all universities and employers. Shiplake’s English Department has a forward-thinking group of teachers who pride themselves on using modern, innovative teaching styles to deliver exciting and varied lessons. As well as preparing pupils in the best possible way for examinations, staff aim to instil an enthusiasm for language and literature which has many other benefits.


The English Department is housed in the listed stableyard area of the school. The classrooms have all recently been refurbished with brand new furniture, carpets and freshly painted walls providing a pleasant learning environment.

The department is progressive in its use of technology, and within the department there is frequent use of iPads, Apple TVs, televisions and projectors. This is in line with the College’s policy to embrace modern technology in many ways to enhance teaching. Every pupil owns a laptop or tablet and they are encouraged to bring these to lessons for educational use.

As a team, the English teachers are constantly looking for new tools to improve the learning experience of pupils in their care. The College currently subscribe to an e-library service, through which several hundred teen fiction titles are available for students to download for free onto their personal devices.

Additional Opportunities

The John Turner Building is also available for pupils to use. This £4.3million project includes an innovative and unique ‘Thinking Space’, providing areas for pupils to collaborate, reflect, read and research. Pupils have access to a huge variety of digital resources, which, with the help of a digital librarian will be used to assist their learning.

Pupils are expected to read for pleasure and to supplement learning, both during and after lessons. The Thinking Space provides an exciting, purpose-built environment for pupils to embrace and explore literature.

In the past, the English department has run trips to theatres, libraries and festivals such as the Henley Literary Festival. Pupils are taken to see relevant plays, often Shakespeare, whenever they are showing locally.


Key Stage 3

The Key Stage 3 curriculum at Shiplake is very much focused on the development of fundamental literacy skills and the enjoyment of high quality literature. The department has invested a great deal recently in modern teen fiction, to help pupils discover reading for pleasure. Pupils in Years 7-9 are treated to a rich and varied diet of literature, including a healthy selection of Shakespeare, and classic texts such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf.

The curriculum is full of opportunities for creativity and the use of a wide range of modern media including films to support the teaching of reading skills. In addition to normal English lessons, younger pupils have a weekly Literacy lesson which focuses specifically on the development of reading, grammar, spelling and writing skills.


English Language is a compulsory subject at GCSE, given the importance of competency in written and spoken English in today’s world. Currently, all pupils in Year 10 spend the year producing high-level coursework pieces and then sit their iGCSE exam at the end of Year 10. The vast majority of pupils achieve a ‘C’ or above and go on to study the AQA English Literature iGCSE course in Year 11. Those who struggle with the subject or are capable of accessing a higher grade are offered a second attempt at the English Language exam in Year 11. 

Assessments take place in Year 10 with two components; written coursework, and a reading exam. Pupils will be expected to read for pleasure both during and after lessons.

English Literature is also an option at GCSE. Due to impending Government reforms, the English Department are currently investigating the most suitable exam board and course specification to follow. However, students should expect to study a variety of literary texts, including a major Shakespeare play, a modern novel, a range of different poetry and a modern drama. Lessons tend to focus on pair and group work, and whole-class discussion.

Assessments take place during Year 11. The exact format and schedule of assessment has yet to be determined, however, it is likely to feature coursework and written examinations. Pupils should expect to compare various literary texts; recent syllabi included such texts as Titus Andronicus, The Wasp Factory, Henry V and Heroes.

Sixth Form

English Literature is offered as an optional subject at A Level. The Sixth Form cohort is usually split into two sets, allowing pupils to receive individually-tailored support. In Year 12, teachers select texts based on their own interests and according to pupils’ strengths, resulting in a wide variety of texts being studied. Pupils will study different types of literature, such as a play, prose and poetry.

Pupils continuing to study the subject at A2 Level in Year 13 are encouraged to pursue their own interests in independent study in addition to a set examination text. This provides a degree of variation to maintain motivation and interest level over the course duration. King Lear is often the chosen set text.

The range of texts on offer in this highly regarded A Level will suit students who aspire to read English at university, yet the variety will also engage students interested in pursuing subjects such as History or Drama.

English as an Additional Language

‘English as an Additional Language’ (EAL) is also offered throughout the College to international pupils. This is a separate subject taught by specialist professionals. However, there is a degree of overlap with English as most of these pupils are entered into both conventional English and EAL GCSE examinations.