I often begin an article like this with a fitting quotation from a famous author, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I instead quote from a lovely letter I received from a Year 12 pupil at the end of this academic year. In it, she wrote that ‘Literature…has changed the way I view the world. The power of words has made me understand the importance of communicating and the connection that comes between different minded individuals through literary works.’ For an English teacher, what a wonderful affirmation of the reasons why we teach our subject! And I would like to thank not only the enthusiasm and dedication of our pupils throughout the school, but also my brilliant colleagues in the English Department, whose incredible commitment and subject knowledge are so vital and so impressive: Ms Clague, Ms Daly, Ms Holman-Smith, Ms Isaac and Mr Sowden.
Indeed, the English Department has continued to focus on the communicative and creative power of words in its teaching of every year group. The Year 7s once again produced some audio-visually striking videos in response to the Persephone Project, while the Year 8s and 9s explored enriching and rewarding texts such as Michael Morpurgo’s Warhorse and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, developing their analytical, creative and performance skills through literature. The pupils in Key Stage 4 (working towards their two IGCSEs in Language and Literature) delved into the world of colonial Nigeria in their study of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, while also being exposed to poetry anthologies which introduced them to writers across different countries, centuries and poetic genres. Whilst VIth Formers in Year 12 were enticed and appalled by the characters of Blanche and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, those in Year 13 studied the contextually rich, morally challenging world of Shakespeare’s Othello. The breadth and depth of literary texts which pupils engage with at Runnymede is one of the most fulfilling aspects of English at Runnymede.
The Year 12 Literature pupils hugely enjoyed their trip to London this year. Not were we lucky enough to have workshops at both Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the British Library, but we also saw a shatteringly good production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (one of the Year 13 coursework texts), starring Imelda Staunton. At first the pupils were more excited that the lead actress had appeared as the grotesque Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films, but by the end of the performance they were simply awed by the stunning theatrical power of one of the twentieth-century’s greatest plays.
The Runnymede Times news blog continued to grow under the helpful guidance of Ms Clague and its student editors, and they produced a fantastic collection of the year’s best articles to hand out to parents at Prize Giving.
The KS3 Spelling Bee was a great success, as ever, as was the Year 9 Shakespeare Performance Competition, which saw some of the most skilful and enjoyable monologues and duologues yet. We had a thought-provoking debate on colonialism with the Year 10s (inspired by their reading of Achebe’s novel), and the development of confidence in public speaking continues to be a fundamental objective of the Department.
In addition, the Year 12 pupils who took the IELTS English Language exam achieved the best scores to date, and I would also like to thank the staff who so ably taught supplementary and extra English classes this year: Ms Figueroa, Mr Hornshaw, Ms McAteer and Mr Spillane.
The teaching of English is naturally at the heart of a school like Runnymede. But in this, the fiftieth anniversary year, in a world wrestling with many social and political issues, I think it is even more important to remember how much language and literature have the ability to open hearts and minds; to allow tolerance and empathy to run through our veins and enrich our lives.