Year 7 Author Visit
Katherine Rundell, writer of The Girl Savage and Rooftoppers and fellow of All Souls, came to talk to Year 7s about her life and writing. Here are some of their responses:
‘She was a ball of energy!’
‘I thought she was very funny and you could definitely tell she was very passionate about what she did and enjoyed writing. I really liked it when she said that she tied herself to her chair with her boot laces to remind herself why she was there, when it got tough.’
‘She is SO COOL! I wish I had lived in Zimbabwe…I really want to be like her. No, hang on, I want to BE her! She is so random and awesome that she is like a character in a book.’
‘Rooftoppers? What a good title! She comes up with good ideas. From scratch!’
‘One of my favourite stories that she told was of her climbing up the walls and towers of All Souls College in Oxford. It seemed so exciting to be up that high in the depth of the night, all alone with the world at your fingertips.’
‘I liked the way she wore an old key round her neck, the key to her library.’
‘It was really funny as when she shared her wish to go to the South Pole and someone asked her ‘Why?’ she replied ‘Who doesn’t?’ in a shocked but casual voice.’
‘It made me want to write myself.’
‘I felt very inspired to never give up.’
‘She said that you shouldn’t say you are bad at something when you are actually really good at it.’
‘She loved being up high as a child to have her own freedom.’
‘She really liked tight rope walking and has a tight rope in her study in college which I thought was really cool. She said it made her blood tingle.’
The Year 7s are now reading her books avidly. Thanks to Rachel Phipps of The Woodstock Bookshop for introducing us. We all enjoyed the event and are looking forward to reading her new novel for adults once it comes out.
You can follow Katherine on twitter: @kdbrundell
Box Clever take up residence at Oxford High School
We are delighted to welcome the Box Clever Theatre Company to Oxford High School, who started a two week theatre residency at the school on Monday 15 April 2013.
Box Clever will be working on a newly adapted production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ directed by the renowned theatre director Iqbal Khan, known for his previous productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre Studio.
You can watch a preview of their work – including the dramatic heart staging.
After the residency at Oxford High School, the cast of professional actors will transfer to The Unicorn Theatre in London, where the show will run from 29 April to 9 May.
Mr Michael Wicherek, Artistic Director for Box Clever says: “Oxford High School is proving to be a tremendously creative environment to work in, for the actors and all the creative team. The sharing of the creative process between the students and the theatre company will undoubtedly lead to a far more interesting product at the end.”
Mrs Judith Carlisle, Head of Oxford High School says: “This is no ordinary residency. By collaborating with Iqbal Khan and the actors in the early stages of rehearsal, the girls are involved in (and inspired by) professional creative processes. It will be great for us all to see the result of their influence when we see this fresh interpretation of Romeo and Juliet in performance.”
Box Clever is an award-winning, writer-led theatre company dedicated to the creation of contemporary theatre for young people. The mission of the company is to inspire, challenge and motivate young audiences. Over the last fifteen years, Box Clever has reached thousands of young people across the UK and beyond, with artistic productions and workshops that are imaginative and radical. Recently, Year 7-9 students at Oxford High School were highly entertained by Box Clever’s workshops and performances on Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.
The production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is very much directed towards young people and during the theatre residency there will be opportunities for the school to attend ‘Open rehearsals’ where students may watch, learn and experience the process of producing a play from page to stage.
Students from Years 9-13 were also invited to apply for internship positions with Box Clever in directing, technical stage-management, production artist and writer for the period of the residency. Interns will be given the exceptional opportunity to attend rehearsals with Iqbal Khan and the cast. The girls chosen for the internships are (pictured below with the cast and crew of Box Clever and Director Iqbal Khan):
Director: Agnes Carrington-Windo (Year 10) and Becky Hodges (Year 10)
Stage Management/Technical: Maya Abouzeid (Year 12) and Rowan Read (Year 10)
Artist in Residence: Ellie Daly (Year 9), Jessica Howarth (Year 9) and Sabrina Rosenheim (Year 10)
Writer in Residence: Hannah Cross (Year 12) and Dora Morgan (Year 10)
Becky Hodges, one of two Directing Interns says: “Already in the first few rehearsals, it has been amazing to see how a play develops. I am very much enjoying watching Iqbal Khan direct. It is an amazing opportunity to be given this insight into the world of professional theatre.”
Sabrina Rosenheim, one of three Artist in Residence interns says: “Working with Box Clever as an artist is fantastic. It is proving a superb opportunity as an artist to work first hand from very active and expressive figures.”
To celebrate the end of the production process there will be a preview performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Oxford High School on Friday 26 April followed by a post-show discussion with Iqbal Khan and the cast.
Year 13 residential trip to Haworth
On the second weekend of term, intrepid Year 13 English Literature students set off with their excitable English teachers for Yorkshire, all set to develop their thoughts on their coursework study of the Self. The central texts are Charlotte Brontë’s Villette and Rapture, by Carol Ann Duffy, though the weekend ranged widely through the Brontës’ other novels, poems and letters, while also taking in poetry, prose and drama by writers from Elizabeth Gaskell to Tony Harrison and Alan Bennett.
On our first day, we stomped over moorland to the Brontë waterfalls, stopping on the way to read Plath and Duffy, and to celebrate a rainbow with an impromptu rendition of Wordsworth’s ‘My Heart leaps up’. A nocturnal trip to a graveyard is fast becoming a trademark of these residentials – we still have fond memories of recreating the opening of Great Expectations in a churchyard by the Kent marshes last year – so we duly crouched by massive tombstones in the looming dark to read extracts from Tony Harrison’s V (which sparked a spirited political debate) and Coleridge’s Christabel. On Saturday we found a municipal park perfect for reading Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are not the only Fruit, and for acting out a scene from Wilde’s A Woman of no Importance, before visiting the Parsonage for what can only be described as the full Brontë.
Sunday morning was spent in darkly beautiful Heptonstall, perched above Hebden Bridge, and the burial place of Sylvia Plath. We read poems around her grave -a writer’s shrine with pen pots and other memorabilia – and then sat in the ruins of the old church to read Larkin and Hughes. The old school house, now a museum, proved irresistible as a setting to stage Jane’s humiliation by Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre, and Lucy Snowe’s battle of wills in teaching her first class with the disaffected Labassecouriennes of Villette.
Author and adventurer Matt Dickinson returns to Oxford High
We were thrilled to have Matt Dickinson back with us on 2 October, this time to talk to Year 7s about the presentation of victims in fiction. A dazzling slide show got everyone talking about what Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker have in common, and reflecting that villains in stories often have a surprising amount in common with the hero. Matt then got the girls working on their own victim stories, with lots of eager sharing of drafts at the close.
Matt also talked about his latest book, Deep Oblivion, the second in his Mortal Chaos trilogy. Many girls stayed around at lunchtime to buy signed copies – and the final instalment is already eagerly awaited.
Foyle Young Poets of the Year Competition
Amy and Jessica’s poems were selected from well over 7,000 entries in this international competition. Amy was among the guests at the awards presentation in London on National Poetry Day, 4 October – a wonderful occasion. You can read a selection of the winning poems on the Poetry Society website http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/competitions/fyp/.
Head of Department
- Mrs Julie Runacres MA Cantab, MA London
- Ms Mari Girling BA (Hons) Oxon
- Dr Alison Kelly BA (Hons) MA PhD Oxon
- Ms Steph Masterson BA (Hons) University of Notre Dame, Indiana USA
- Miss Cathy O’Neill BA Oxon, MA London
- Mrs Ginnie Redston BA London
The emphasis is on learning while having fun. Through devising our own innovative ways in to reading, writing, speaking and listening, we seek to foster and develop girls’ creativity, curiosity and independence, while helping them become accurate and fluent users of the language. Over the year, they will study at least one novel, a selection of poetry and a Shakespeare play, and encounter a range of non-fiction and media texts. Individual reading projects, creative writing in arrange of genres, and the opportunity to use multimedia approaches – for example, making short films – cater for lots of learning styles and provide stimulating challenges in a framework of careful support.
In Year 8 we build on skills developed in Year 7, with an additional emphasis on exploring cultural identity through a range of fiction, non-fiction and spoken texts. Girls learn to recognise rhetorical strategies and to employ them themselves in persuasive speech-making (we hold a public speaking competition at the end of the year). They will study a novel such as Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird, selections of poetry and a Shakespeare play (Macbeth or The Tempest), using a variety of active approaches to get them experiencing the language in performance. Their own writing continues to develop in a range of genres and forms, and there are opportunities for pursuing creative writing both in and outside class.
The study of literature continues to be central to English in Year 9. As well as encountering texts from the literary canon, girls explore material generated by the increasingly complex world she experiences through film and the media. Typical texts include a Shakespeare play (Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado about nothing, Twelfth Night); a novel with a first person narrator (Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Curious Incident) and poetry anthologies and collections. They continue to develop their own writing in different forms, and are guided in finding their own voice when writing and speaking for different audiences and purposes. By encountering a range of stimulating texts and tasks, we prepare them for the transition to IGCSE in Years 10 and 11.
Years 10 and 11
Year 10 marks the start of our IGCSE courses. We follow the CIE (Cambridge International Examinations) IGCSE for English (First Language) and English Literature. The two subjects are taught in an integrated way, so that students can see the connections between studying literature and non-fiction and media, and between exploring the writer’s craft and developing as writers themselves.
We encourage students to see English as a way of thinking, fostering skills they’ll apply to every text they come across, be it a political leaflet, a website or a poem. We seek to ensure that students are able to develop their creativity, as well as analytical rigour. Both IGCSE courses include elements of coursework, which are selected from a range of pieces completed by girls across the duration of the course.
We follow the WJEC English Literature course for AS and A-level. The course combines rigorous literary study with opportunities for creative response, and lessons are lively, discussion-based occasions with an emphasis on honing individual and well-evidenced responses to texts. For coursework, girls study two novels and produce a piece of creative writing with an analytical commentary, shaped in some way by a third prose text of their choice. For the exam, they study poetry by T S Eliot and W B Yeats, and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.
The skills of independent thought and informed enjoyment of literature we have sought to foster throughout the girls’ English careers culminate in Year 13 in the coursework assignment. This 3000 word essay on three texts – prose, poetry and a free choice of third – enables girls to devise their own topic area of interest and sustain a literary argument that is unique to them and based on their own researches. Their work is underpinned and guided by rigorous and lively discussion-based teaching, including on our September residential weekend. Skills of unseen literary appreciation are fostered in preparation for the exam paper on pre-1770 poetry and drama; current set texts are the poetry of John Donne, King Lear and Oedipus Rex.
Facilities and Resources
The English department is housed in a new dedicated suite of rooms in the Mary Warnock School of Music. As you go into the building, the first thing you’ll notice is how light it all is: the windows open on to grass and trees – a favourite haunt of drama-focused lessons in the summer – and the glass panels that give on to the corridor mean that every lesson takes place with a sense of being part of the vibrant life of the whole Department. Girls may spill out of classrooms, books in hand, rehearsing their own performances of a scene from Shakespeare. Sixth formers cluster together round a large table, intent on their discussion of Donne, Shakespeare or T. S. Eliot. All around them are samples of students’ work, from all year groups. No long-forgotten essays hastily pinned to notice boards here: our work celebrates the diversity of the girls’ experience in English, and you can expect to find stunning visual responses to literary texts; inventive creative writing; and astute and personal responses to both literary and non-fiction/media texts.
Each classroom has a computer with DVD, and TV with video-player. While we wouldn’t claim to be at the cutting-edge of technology, we’re far from techno-phobic! We make use of the school’s ICT resources as required to support the girls’ writing and guide them in judicious and informed use of the Web to complement their research in the school library.
Extra-Curricular Activities and Achievements
An important part of the experience of English at Oxford High is what happens outside the classroom. Theatre trips are always being arranged. We run an English at University class for Year 13 students during the Autumn term to discuss texts beyond the syllabus, and a variety of clubs including book groups, creative writing and blogging clubs.
We always welcome visitors to the department. We are particularly fortunate in the ways in which parents play such an active part in the life of English at OHS as visiting lecturers or just as friendly supporters of all our events. Come and see how English has changed since you were at school and yet how the pleasures of acting plays, saying poems aloud and arguing about texts remain the same.