The English team is committed to developing students’ understanding of the wider world and their ability to express themselves articulately and with confidence. We follow an innovative language-through-literature curriculum in order to share our passion and knowledge of our subject and to develop a deep shared understanding of texts and ideas. The curriculum is broad and engaging, with the aim of improving pupils’ skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing in order to fully prepare them for life in modern Britain.
At Cowley, reading is central to the teaching and learning experience. Reading widely for pleasure is encouraged at all times and the college library is central to our vision. Accelerated Reader provides a personalised reading programme for each student; we shadow the Carnegie Prize for children’s literature and we organise visits to theatres and from published authors and poets. Our students enjoy a rich and varied diet of classic and modern literature including prose, poetry, drama and non-fiction. Texts are drawn from the great British literary heritage as well as from different cultures and traditions.
Our curriculum topics and set texts help to introduce and contextualise engaging writing tasks which further consolidate learning. Students are taught to produce clear and accurate written texts in a variety of styles and to meet the needs of different purposes and audiences. Speaking and listening skills are taught explicitly and all pupils are encouraged to express their ideas confidently in a variety of situations, leading to presentations fulfilling the Spoken Language requirement of GCSE English Language in Y10/11.
In following a language-through-literature curriculum, each year is organised into six units, each with either a theme or a literary text as its focus to encourage the acquisition of contextually-related knowledge. Given the range of literary texts on offer, a key principle of the curriculum is known as the ‘Language Challenge’ where reading and writing skills tasks are integrated into our literary studies, including challenging tasks such as comparing texts in conflict (following the Let’s Think in English model) and creative writing tasks that are linked to the source text.
Key Stage 3 runs during Y7 and Y8 which are organised towards developing the key skills and understanding that students need to be successful in later years. Inspired by Tim Oates’ call for increased ‘depth and mastery’ and to bring about progress in terms of learning rather than summative outcomes, each year of KS3 is themed by either fiction or non-fiction and is organised in progressive units that are intended to consolidate and deepen understanding.
In Y7, students focus on fiction, beginning by designing their ideal books and moving on to study specific authors and conventions so that they have a broader and more mature understanding of literature in terms of genre and context. Creative writing is developed through narrative and character-based tasks which give students the opportunity to try out the techniques that they have identified in the stimulus texts.
In Y8, students focus on non-fiction by creating their own charity campaigns, writing advice letters for teachers and developing their understanding of effective speech writing while studying relevant literary texts. In mixed ability classes, students are encouraged to articulate and exchange their views by exploring the personal challenges and societal issues presented in their set texts, culminating in a debating competition between classes.
In terms of developing progress through assessments in KS3, other than initial baseline assessments, students are given formative feedback only through the year to focus on developing understanding and to create opportunities to make improvements in terms of the quality of work. Students are assessed summatively at the end of the year in a single examination which is linked to the previous units of study.
Key Stage 4 begins in Y9 with students studying GCSE set texts and completing examination-style assessment tasks. This is intended to build familiarity and confidence with key content and to allow for interleaving so that learning can be consolidated in later years. We continue to fulfil the National Curriculum by offering a broad and varied curriculum with a range of challenging literary texts. As in KS3, themed units draw on topical events and real experiences to link our studies meaningfully to the wider world.
To ensure equality of access and delivery, core topics are set and followed in all classes. There are some variations in texts taught based on student ability and teacher preferences. The curriculum is organised so that students of different abilities receive the same number of lessons towards English Language and English Literature. The schedule may be adapted for some students in the A+ pathway who may be entered for the GCSE English Literature qualification in Y10. The principles of interleaving and consolidation are still upheld with learning building on the introductory work completed in Y9 and linked writing tasks still being completed.
In terms of developing specific literacy skills, an integrated approach is preferred using set texts as contextual sources of new vocabulary and models for grammatical structures. In order to promote grammatical learning and to give it a high profile in the curriculum, we do have half termly literacy themes which are revisited in the second half of the year to consolidate understanding and extend students further. There is also a significant focus on developing writing skills and grammatical understanding, intended to build on knowledge from KS2 and taught explicitly in fortnightly lessons using the ‘Crafting Brilliant Sentences’ resources.
Students receive weekly homework tasks which are monitored and checked. At KS3, this is provided as ‘Takeaway Homework’ where students choose from a list of tasks focusing on developing understanding and/or improving written communication. At KS4, weekly homework alternates between fortnightly writing tasks and revision of key learning points.
Curriculum in action
Curriculum Beyond the Classroom
As a department, we champion reading by offering extra-curricular activities in the library including a reading club. There are several theatre trips every year and we also invite performing groups into school through links with LIPA and by hosting an annual festive performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for Y7 and Y11 students. We have also held talks with parents to champion reading at home and plan to visit the Hay Festival in May 2020.
Debating is an important enrichment activity and the school has experienced some success in the Debating Matters and Up for Debate competitions in recent years. We are ambitious for future years and will extend our activities by running debating clubs in Y9 and Y12 and competing in several competitions.
We work with a well-equipped media department to offer a number of journalistic activities by contributing to the termly edition of Pulse TV, the BBC School Report and run a Y6 journalism event for more able students as part of our outreach to primary schools. The school has produced feature films for screening at a local cinema in the past and plans to do so again in the future.
There are further opportunities for enrichment in the Sixth Form with additional theatre trips and excursions to BBC Breakfast, ITV Studios and the John Rylands Library supporting KS5 studies running last academic year.
Appropriate CPD is delivered in-house or arranged every year. Subject leaders will deliver on key strategies from the Departmental Improvement Plan. Representatives from the department will attend exam board events and feed back to the department. We have several exam markers in the team who feedback from the examination season and also in determining and benchmarking standards.
In a large department, consistency is critical and everyone has a leadership role to play in ensuring that there are high standards of teaching and learning. We complete collaborative planning tasks every year and each member of the team is expected to deliver a briefing or sometimes a longer session to help develop and update everyone’s professional practice.
We have a department innovator who works with other departmental leads on current teaching and learning developments and takes a lead with sharing ideas and good practice.
Significant efforts are made to develop students’ ambitions and interests in the subject into adult life. Specific units of study are linked to professional roles in news media and charity campaigning. Students have several opportunities to work with writers and actors, including the Book Buzz initiative and theatre workshops. We have held a very successful Careers in Creative Writing and Publishing event with an external speaker who worked with interested students in Y10 and Y12/13 and we will do so again if funding allows.
In terms of transition, there are a number of ways we induct Y6 students into the school with English offering several activities and experiences as mentioned above. The KS3 curriculum is organised to develop appropriate skills and prepare students to access the KS4 curriculum beginning in Y9. Y10 students have taster activities in English Language, English Literature, Media Studies and Film so that they are aware of the KS5 options available to them. We are a very nurturing and ambitious department who aim to get the best out of our students and encourage them to move forward in their lives.