Wherever we are, whatever we do, language is with us. It is the fifth element in which we exist.
Developing a knowledge of the mechanics of language – words, grammar and even spelling – enables students to engage more fully with the world around them, to decode and interpret the rich discourses of media, news, politics, arts and popular culture. But this is not all. Formal study of English is about so much more than mastering a set of rules and systems – however important those systems might be; it's a vital journey which allows every pupil to find their voice, in every possible sense.
We believe that English is a fundamentally creative subject.
Our lessons aim to engage the imagination and encourage students to explore each and every literary form. We nurture confidence, fluency and flair in writing, and guide students to see the beauty and potency of well-chosen words. It is our view that each pupil, like every professional writer, has a unique voice on the page, and we encourage students to develop this through experimentation and practice.
Wide reading, and instilling a curiosity about books, is at the heart of all we do.
Our lower years will always have a personal reading book; our First Years will read privately in every lesson; Sixth Form students teach masterclasses and compile book lists; we blog and podcast about books; we regularly invite writers into the school and we are proud partners of the Charleston House Literary Festival.
We believe that English extends well beyond the classroom, so please take time to explore the Co-Curricular opportunities open to students. Our creative journal, Small Island, is now in its third year, whilst our two annual creative writing competitions are now firmly established fixtures on the school calendar. Theatre trips, debating, podcasting and a bi-annual drama production ensure that life in the English department at Bede’s is always interesting. But don’t take our word for it. Come and see what we do for yourselves.
Bede’s offers AQA GCSE English Language, a 100% examination course which enables students to read a wide range of texts and really develop their individual voice on the page.
Whereas in the past half of each pupil’s final grade was decided by a portfolio comprising three pieces of independent coursework, now each child will take two exams at the end of the Upper Fifth and they alone will determine their overall mark.
These final exams are equally weighted, with one focussed on Fiction and Creative Writing and the other on Non-Fiction and Persuasive Writing. During the two years of the course, each pupil is also formally assessed on their Public Speaking, although the mark for this task does not contribute to their final grade.
As the course is so open, focussing on skills rather than knowledge, we at Bede's have packed the two year programme full of exciting projects covering a vast range of tasks and projects and using reading materials from across literary history.
In the Lower Fifth, classes engage in a wide array of reading including short stories, poetry, novels and journalism, experimenting with varied forms and styles and taking part in a debating competition during the Spring Term.
In the Upper Fifth, pupils continue to prepare for their end of year examinations through experimentation, with at least one trip to the theatre taking place across the course of the year.
Teachers give their classes plenty of time and guidance to ensure that key skills are in place, but our focus is not on teaching to the test: instead, we want to embed a love of language in every girl and boy that will endure long after they finish the course.
Outstanding work is celebrated through publication - both on MyBedes and through our annual Small Island writing collection - with regular competitions, monthly Fifth Form Masterclasses and our twilight Writers' Workshops inviting Fifth Form pupils to stretch themselves well beyond the levels of proficiency required for success at GCSE level.
Our students study the Cambridge International GCSE syllabus, a course which combines academic challenge and flexibility for teachers.
Paper 1 covers poetry (from a pre-published selection) and a prose work studied across the two years. Our teachers are not forced to teach the same texts, but offer texts which will appeal to different ability groups and cohorts of students. Where one group will thrive with a 19th century novel, another will be more enticed by more modern American novel, or a classic post-colonial novel.
Paper 2 covers Drama, combing study of a compulsory Shakespeare text and a more modern play, such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible or R.C Sheriff’s Journey’s End.
We do not rest easy on our laurels however, and our top set groups are now embarking on the AQA English Literature GCSE course - a course which challenges them to study a Shakespeare work and a 19th Century novel.
No matter which course a pupil embarks upon at the start of their Lower Fifth year, they will experience of the joys and challenges of timeless poetry and prose.
Beyond learning the significance of totemic names like Shakespeare, Austen or Browning, the courses enable teachers to tailor assignments to the specific passions of a group, delve into a Booker Prize winner and explore poetry from a diverse and exciting array of sources.
Our course structure helps pupils hone their writing skills and develop their appreciation of literature and, although we aspire for our students to achieve the highest grades, we encourage curiosity and independent critical thinking most of all.
As a department, our conviction is that children should be challenged by their reading and encouraged to question for themselves as to why, or even if, a set text merits its place in the contemporary canon of literary greats.
Furthermore, beyond the classroom we frequently invite visiting writers and lecturers to come to Bede’s to stretch and challenge pupils far beyond the requirements of the curriculum, organise regular theatre trips to bring drama to life, and, through our singular Fifth Form Masterclass programme, introduce the children to ideas, theories and writing that most would only encounter at degree level.
Combining the rigour of a traditional A-Level with a refreshing level of flexibility, the Cambridge Pre-U course allows us to delve into canonical literature and allow students freedom to develop their own tastes.
Designed to equip students with the skills they will need to engage in rigorous academic research at University, Pre-U English was engineered to inculcate a true enjoyment of literature in students while offering them an excellent preparation for the study of essay-based subjects at University.
At Bede's, Pre-U English students enjoy a thorough introduction to literary history in the first term of the Lower Sixth, and continue to read extensively throughout their ‘foundation’ year. The first term also sees students engaging visiting talks and workshops at the Charleston Literary Festival, which they return to again in the Summer Term, as well as masterclass sessions taught by sixth form students themselves.
In the classroom, Pre-U students discover the value of comparative study, refine their research skills and become acquainted with the conventions of scholarly writing.
The course culminates in three examinations, each worth 25% of a student’s final grade, plus an independent 'P.I.' or 'Personal Investigation' into literary works of their choice. It is here that students can really follow their own passions, developing an assignment on any four English language texts printed anywhere in the world at any point in literary history.
As for the exams, the first encompasses Poetry and Prose, the second Drama and the third Comment and Analysis on two previously unseen texts.
While pursuing excellence in the above, Bede's Pre-U students develop their own critical voices so that they are well prepared for the challenges of their independent project.
Rigorous, intellectual stimulating, creative and thought-provoking, the Pre-U is an excellent course that is, of course, taught with passion!
In the last 5 years, 80% of candidates have achieved the equivalent of A*-C grades, with the highest achievers earning Distinction** grades - a grade worth more than an A* at A Level.
Most importantly however, our Pre-U groups lead rich cultural lives, regularly attending the theatre locally, enjoying visits from guest writers, speakers and lecturers, visiting institutions including The British Library and London's many museums, and travelling to historical landmarks of literary significance ranging from Jane Austen's home to Shakespeare's Globe.
Small Island is Bede’s first annual creative publication.
Run entirely by students, it showcases some of the finest extra-curricular writing and artwork made in a single year. Work is gathered from two annual writing competitions, the first year Travel Writing Prize and the Bede’s Writers’ Prize, as well as open submissions from students in all year groups. In 2019, the magazine will bring together a wider range of talented Bede’s pupils, as we look to produce a larger issue twice a year.
Each episode features an interview with a different pupil, teacher or member of the Bede's community and is all about creativity, reading and writing in the broadest sense.
As part of the podcast, guests contribute books to the 'Small Island Library', and we welcome your contributions too, via firstname.lastname@example.org