ENGLISH (A level and IB)
A writer once said, ‘We find in fiction the plurality of lives we need.’ We believe passionately in the power and value of great writing to enrich our lives.
Whether you are immersing yourself in the worlds of ‘Tess’ or ‘The Bell Jar’, in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ or ‘Hamlet’, there are insights to be gained, dilemmas to be analysed and ideas to be explored.
We follow the two-year Edexcel A Level in English Literature, welcoming the breadth and clarity it offers as a scheme of assessment. Each year we vary the choice of texts we teach to keep things fresh and exciting. We will study modern fiction, looking at the agonies of Afghanistan in Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ or Margaret Atwood’s disturbing vision of a dystopian future in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Later in the course we study ‘Hamlet’, Marlowe’s ‘Faustus’ and Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale’, matching the last with a fabulous collection of modern poetry, ‘Poems of the Decade’, a collection of poems that have won the Forward Prize for poetry since 2000. The focus on modern poetry is delightful and refreshing, and if you haven’t read Patience Agbabi’s ‘Eat Me’ – well, you have a treat in store
When it comes to coursework, girls have the option to compare two texts of their own choosing, but we can also make suggestions and help guide them through the process; such as ‘The Go-Between’ and perhaps ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn or Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’.
The English segment of the IB Diploma is one of the jewels in its crown. Whether taken at Higher Level or Standard Level, the English IB course will involve girls following a wide range of literary experiences. For example, one of the distinguishing features of this part of the IB, compared to A Level, is the emphasis on works in translation. We have the opportunity to explore fiction from around the world, and it is these global perspectives which enrich discussion and illuminate lessons. Girls may study a Japanese novel, ‘Kitchen’ by Banana Yoshimoto or Ibsen’s great play ‘A Doll’s House’. It may be Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ where the protagonist turns into some sort of insect in the first sentence, or perhaps that powerfully symbolic work by Zola, ‘Therese Raquin’ where the scar on the neck becomes a signifier of guilt.
The other exciting feature of the IB is the range of forms of assessment. While A Levels focus entirely on written essays as the means of assessment, in the IB girls have the opportunity to give formal presentations (known as the Individual Oral Presentation) on an aspect of a text which interests them. Later in the course, they discuss a play and poems they have studied in a one-to-one situation with their teacher, and again, this contributes to their final score as the Individual Oral Commentary. There is a coursework element too and exams come at the end of the course; one on poetry as a genre and one based on an unseen. Practising for these pieces of assessment forms a thread that runs through the course, allowing us to explore the art and pleasure of poetry.
All texts in both our courses are chosen to fascinate and challenge the girls, who are offered a rich diet of ideas with lessons centring on an exploration of texts from different angles and perspectives. The sharing of ideas is the heart of lessons. As always, our aim is to develop the girls’ ability to think critically and to express themselves with confidence and flair.
Outside of lessons, we have a wide range of extra-curricular activities to enrich our students’ literary intelligence. ‘Lit Lunches’ run every Friday where girls can read and discuss writers who they might not otherwise encounter. It’s totally eclectic and we might move from Boccaccio to Victorian sensation novels to ‘The Lie Tree’, which recently won the Costa Prize. (Warning: cake is eaten on these occasions.) There are also plenty of theatre trips to the Tobacco Factory and the Bristol Old Vic, public speaking competitions, debates with local schools, and the ESU Mace competition.