Poetry reading by Fiona Sampson
As part of the Woodstock Poetry Festival organised by an Oxford High School parent, the prize-winning poet and distinguished author Fiona Sampson gave a reading in the school library on Friday 15th November. Addressing a large audience of sixth formers plus a few younger students, she read from her most recent collection, Coleshill, which contains taut, luminous and often unsettling poems inspired by the Gloucestershire village where she has a home. Her readings were prefaced by fascinating insights into the poems’ origins and aims, and Fiona was generous in answering questions and talking to students and staff over tea and cake.
Lunchtime seminar on Toni Morrison
English students in Year 12 were lucky enough to have a fascinating lunchtime talk by Dr Tessa Roynon from St Peter’s College, Oxford on Wednesday 13th November. The aim of the seminar was to deepen their understanding of Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, which they are studying as part of their AS-level coursework. The author of The Cambridge Introduction to Toni Morrison and Toni Morrison and the Classical Tradition, Dr Roynon is a leading scholar in the field worldwide. Her insights into background, classical allusions and major themes were accessible and thought-provoking, prompting discussion about the moral ambiguities in the novel and opening avenues for us to explore further.
Art, English and RS at the Pitt Rivers museum
The Art, English and Religious Studies departments took all of Year 8 on a connected curriculum trip to the Pitt Rivers Museum on October 8th. It was a wonderful opportunity to make the most of this fantastic museum – just a short walk away through the University Parks. We were lucky enough to have a special talk on the Haida collection by museum staff and later a ‘hands-on’ session with the beautiful Javanese shadow puppets. There was plenty of time for the girls to draw and write about things that inspired them in the museum for projects relating to each of the subjects. We would like to thank everyone at the Pitt Rivers Museum for making us so welcome and helping us to learn from, and be inspired by, their collection.
Shakespeare Schools Festival
Congratulations to the cast and crew of Oxford High School’s fabulous production of As You Like It, which was performed at the Theatre at Headington on Wednesday 6th November as part of the 2013 Shakespeare Schools Festival. Directed by Mrs Redston and Ms Masterson from the English Department, the abridged version of Shakespeare’s famous pastoral comedy drew glowing praise from a highly appreciative audience. Students and staff did fantastic work in rehearsals and behind the scenes to prepare the play for performance, and all hugely enjoyed the experience of participating in the UK’s largest youth drama festival.
Arcadia at Oxford Playhouse
Possibly Tom Stoppard’s most moving play, and certainly one of his funniest, Arcadia is also intellectually challenging. Its interweaving of ideas drawn from maths, physics, poetry, landscape gardening, music and fashion makes extraordinary demands on actors and audiences alike. It was thrilling for students in Years 12 and 13, accompanied by members of the English department, to see a brilliant new production by the student company Milk and Two Sugars at Oxford Playhouse on Thursday 17th October. Excellent performances by many of the cast, fabulous costumes and a beautiful set combined to produce a staging which helped make sense of the complex theories around which the play revolves while also bringing out the human comedy and tragedy.
Head of Department
- Mrs Julie Runacres MA Cantab, MA London
- Ms Mari Girling BA (Hons) Oxon
- Dr Alison Kelly BA (Hons) MA Oxon, PhD
- 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.