English is about understanding how humanity has shared experiences, ideas and thinking over time –it’s about what it means to be a human. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the subject is ‘just’ reading and writing. While the study of English does of course underpin academic attainment across the curriculum, it’s benefits go far beyond the classroom, through promoting intellectual curiosity and encouraging students to make sense of the world. 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 based in the Bevan building, with all classrooms equipped with visualisers and projectors, as well as a wide range of fiction and non-fiction texts to inspire and engage students in reading. Every pupil owns a laptop or tablet and they are encouraged to bring these to lessons for educational use. The department uses Google Classroom to support teaching and learning, through frequent uploading of useful and interesting resources.
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 subscribes to an e-library service, through which several hundred teen fiction titles are available for students to download for free onto their personal devices. The department also subscribes to Massolit, a platform which provides lectures on taught texts which encourages students to think critically about the books they are studying.
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 the Thinking Space manager 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. In year 7, students visit the Warner Brothers Studios where they enjoy a lesson in the world of Harry Potter and have the opportunity to explore the studio in order to supplement the links between the world of Hogwarts and the unexpected adventures of Bilbo, as part of their adventure writing topic.
The Bell Bookshop Top 5 Read and Recommended
For the 2023-2024 academic year, the English Department is collaborating with The Bell Bookshop to share a 'Top 5 Read and Recommended' each month which is aimed at Key Stage 3 children (Years 7-9).
The Bell Bookshop will provide a list of books with the aim of getting children reading more and going into a bookshop as opposed to reading online.
You can find all of the book lists for this and for previous months through the links below.
Previous Book Lists
Key Stage 3
Our bespoke curriculum in Key Stage 3 is rich and rewarding, intended to foster a lifelong love of the subject and of reading. Stories underpin our curriculum, allowing creativity and imagination to flourish. Literary texts of the past influence contemporary works; therefore, the texts we teach seek to balance the classics with more modern works.
Year 7s arrive at the school and are immediately transported into the world of Tolkien. This is complemented with the study of Harry Potter and culminates with students producing their own quest adventure. In year 7, we focus on getting the basics right, through explicit teaching of spelling, punctuation and grammar, alongside the reading of exciting and interesting novels such as Coraline and The Ruby in the Smoke.
Year 8 explore the lives and experiences of others through the autobiographical writing of Anne Frank, Roald Dahl and Nelson Mandela. They also broaden their understanding of the world through the study of the novel Trash, a story about three boys who live on the trash heaps of Behala.
Year 9 are introduced to the influence of Aristotle’s Rhetoric through the study of speeches by Alexander the Great, Elizabeth 1, Martin Luther King and Malala to name but a few. Through exposing students to the gold standard of the subject, we are encouraging them to reflect this in their own writing.
In addition to their timetabled English lessons, KS3 students also have one reading session a week. This session is supported by the Accelerated Reader Programme, a platform which monitors reading progress and encourages students to read widely and for pleasure through fun quizzing.
Students in year 10 and 11 follow the Pearson Edexcel iGCSE syllabus in English Language, with the majority of students also studying iGCSE English Literature alongside this, meaning students will finish their compulsory English education with two qualifications.
In Key Stage 4, students discover a wide variety of poems, short stories and non-fiction extracts from a range of cultures and experiences through the iGCSE anthology, as well as classic Literature such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They are given the opportunity to refine their analytical skills, and begin to understand the importance of developing their own critical voices. Students will complete two pieces of coursework for English Language, and two for English Literature, which accounts for 40% of their final grade. These pieces are completed throughout year 10 and 11 alongside the study of texts for examination purposes.
Reading for pleasure at this stage of education remains paramount: there is an undeniable link between those students who read and those who perform well in examinations. The department therefore often encourages students through exposing them to a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts that are of interest to them in lessons.
Students at Shiplake have the opportunity to choose to study a combined English Language and Literature course in Sixth Form, following the Pearson Edexcel syllabus. Through seminar style lessons, the dynamic between teacher and student becomes collaborative, with intellectual exchange fuelling our study of drama, prose and non-fiction texts. Students are encouraged to weigh-in and offer their opinions to each other and their teachers. We choose texts we are passionate about in order to transfer that enthusiasm onto our students in a supportive manner, offering clinics and 1-1 support sessions for those who need it.
In year 12, students are introduced to the overarching theme of the course, ‘voices in speeches and writing’ and study seminal texts such as Othello and The Great Gatsby. They also have the opportunity to analyse more modern non-fiction texts, ranging from online blogs to diary entries, exploring influential writers such as Charlie Brooker and Alan Bennett.
In year 13, students have the opportunity to develop their skills as a writer through a variety of investigative and analytical tasks, culminating in the creation of their own extended writing piece.
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.