If you reflect on the novels and films where a teacher is the hero, or at least an important character, you will see just how often this figure turns out to be a teacher of English. Now, this may well be because the creators of such works were pretty good at English at school, maybe even spending some time teaching their favourite subject before becoming successful writers, but there is, perhaps, something in the idea that English teachers tend to be particularly inspiring figures.
In the English Department at St. Catherine's, we may not be the heroes of narratives on the page or screen, but we do harbour some hope that we will remain in the mind when schooldays are ended – remembered for passing on some of our own knowledge and love of a language and literature of unparalleled richness. A taste of what we do to bring this about may be had by roaming around this website.
Mrs Hannah Simcock - Head of Department BA (Oxon), PGCE (Sussex)
Taught English as a second language in Spain and China prior to joining St. Catherine’s. Current literary idols are Jane Austen, Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche, Jung Chang, Victor Hugo and Tom Stoppard. Cannot walk past a second-hand bookshop without buying at least a couple more novels. Reads fiction for enjoyment and relaxation every day, curates an ever-growing reading list, and is always open to recommendations of new titles and authors. Is a strong believer that reading can, and does, change your life.
Mrs Sophie Hay: BA (Hons) (Kent), PGCE (Canterbury Christ Church)
Started teaching at St. Catherine's in 2010. Loves literature in all its forms but main areas of interest include Shakespeare, Keats, Hardy, Dickens, and Modernist Literature. Takes particular enjoyment from reading and teaching an appreciation of poetry, as well as seeing the works of the bard performed at The Globe.
Mrs Deborah Kitchen: BA (Oxon), PGDip
Joined the English Department at St Catherine’s in 2014 and is Musgrave Housemistress: a change in career direction from legal practice. Thoroughly enjoys sharing her interest in the intricacies of language with others and has a particular regard for the social commentary of Dickens, as well as the poetry of World War I. Enjoys spending time with family, reading historical fiction, and has taken up the saxophone again, after a break of many years.
Ms Louise Robson: BA (Hons), PGCE (Distinction) Hull
Has taught since 1997 in both state and private sectors; previously employed as Head of English at the British School of Barcelona, Spain. Areas of literary interest and specialisms include post-colonial literature, Romanticism, twentieth century drama and the Gothic tradition.
Mrs Sarah Strachan: BSc USAF Academy, MA Penn State, PGCE (English)
Has taught at state and independent schools. Prior to teaching in the UK, served 20 years in the United States Air Force working in a variety of positions around the globe including Germany, Qatar and Italy until retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2014 to settle with her family. Believes in the power of literature to transform the world around us because it creates imaginary spaces where readers are free to develop empathy, think critically and reflect on their society in meaningful ways. Avidly consumes Victorian literature, war literature and modern re-tellings of classical stories. Is always happy to talk books and drink good coffee.
Mrs Vanessa Whittingham BA (Hons) Reading, PGCE (Reading), MA (Kingston)
Started her teaching career at Reigate Grammar School where she was lucky enough to work with St Catherine’s own Mr Worthen. After moving to Notting Hill and Ealing High School, she then taught at The Lady Eleanor Holles School for eight years. Most recently, whilst raising her two daughters, she has worked as a private English tutor. Particularly enjoys teaching the nineteenth century novel and the Romantics but is passionate about exploring all literature with her pupils from Atwood to Benjamin Zephaniah. Her hobby is children’s literature and she is writing and researching a children’s book in her spare time.
Other teaching staff:
Examination Board: Cambridge International Examinations
Why study English?
A Level English Literature is a very popular academic subject, highly regarded by universities and employers in a variety of careers.
It is a good companion to studies in History and in Languages both Ancient and Modern, though it may profitably be taken in conjunction with a range of subjects in both the Humanities and Sciences. Like any academic subject, English naturally makes demands upon those who study it: you should come prepared to work diligently, to read both extensively and with close attention to detail, to think hard, and to discuss your ideas in the classroom and beyond. The rewards lie in the enriching of your mind that comes with encountering a variety of great literature, in the sharpening of your ability to express yourself clearly and coherently in speech and writing, and in the sheer pleasure that reading and discussion provide. By the end of the course, the books you have read, discussed and written about will ideally be part of an unfolding lifetime’s enjoyment of literature.
The L6 of 2021-2022 are taking two AS Level papers, one on drama and poetry, and one on prose and an unseen text. The set texts on the former paper will be Much Ado About Nothing and poems from the CIE anthology Songs of Ourselves Volume 2. The prose set texts are all short stories by a diverse collection of writers (Thomas Hardy, Edith Wharton, Katherine Mansfield and Ovo Adagha, among many others) taken from the CIE anthology Stories of Ourselves Volume 2.
The U6 of 2021-2022 are taking two A-Level papers, one on Shakespeare and drama, and one on pre- and post-1900 poetry and prose. The set texts on the former paper will include The Merchant of Venice, as well as Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink. The latter paper will require study of Persuasion and the works of Jackie Kay, the national poet (Makar) of Scotland.
The full A Level course, therefore, requires the detailed study of seven texts, covering drama, poetry and prose, and ranging across several centuries. The course tests the ability to analyse each of these texts closely, as well as the application of this skill to an unseen text.
NB: The AS Level is carried forward to contribute to the A Level
AS Level: Assessed in 2 x 2 hour papers. These same two papers make up 50% of the full A Level
A Level: 2 x 2 hour papers, making up the final 50% of the full A Level
Examination Board: Cambridge International Examinations
CIE English Language IGCSE and English Literature IGCSE are taken by all girls.
English Language (Syllabus 0990, First Language English)
There are two examination papers, each of two hours:
Paper 1 (Reading) consists of three unseen prose passages, which provide the material for short-answer comprehension questions, summary, language analysis, and extended writing.
Paper 2 (Directed Writing and Composition) consists of a piece of directed writing (e.g., letter, report, journal entry, interview) based on two unseen prose passages, and a creative writing composition of a narrative or descriptive kind.
English Literature (Syllabus 0992, Literature in English)
Again, there are two examination papers, each of one and a half hours. Each paper consists of two essays, each essay on a different text:
- Paper 1 (Poetry and Prose) comprises the CIE Poetry Anthology (fifteen poems by different poets ranging across a period of about two centuries) and Orwell’s 1984.
- Paper 2 (Drama) comprises Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Sherriff’s Journey’s End.
Both IGCSE courses are taught concurrently, with each one assisting the other. The courses are taught over the two years of the L5 and U5 (Years 10 and 11), both for public examination at the end of the second year
Work in the Middle School years (U3, L4 and U4, Years 7-9) can be divided into four areas: literature, writing, grammar/language work and personal reading. All of these are designed to make the girls ready to tackle their IGCSE courses in the L5 and U5 (Years 10 and 11) and to lay a strong foundation for work at A Level.
From the U3 onwards, the girls are gradually introduced to major authors and literary texts, including Shakespeare (our own Shakespeare anthology in the U3, and a complete play in each of the years above), Jane Austen, Chaucer and Dickens. Poetry, drawn from a range of poets and periods, in a variety of forms and dealing with various themes, is studied in each year. In the U4 especially, teaching is designed to lead up to the two years of the IGCSE course.
Throughout the Middle School Years, girls are taught to have a regular concern to achieve clarity, correctness and coherence in all their writing. The types of composition to be taught and practised include writing that explains, describes, evokes, narrates, reflects, expresses thoughts and feelings, advances and opposes arguments, persuades and analyses. Naturally, the level of complexity in each of these will increase each year. The norm is handwritten work in exercise books, but, at the teacher’s discretion, some writing may be typed and printed off by pupils for sticking into exercise books or for display purposes. Our overall aim is that the essentials of good writing are grasped securely before the IGCSE courses begin.
We teach our own course in grammar, punctuation and correct usage, which aims to cover the essentials in these areas by the end of Middle School. In the U3, we teach the following: noun, pronoun and verb; subject, verb and direct object; full stop, question mark, exclamation mark, comma, apostrophe and inverted commas; and various fundamental aspects of correct usage. In the L4 and U4, the previous work is consolidated and revised, and the following are added: adjective, adverb, conjunction and preposition; main clause and subordinate clause; active and passive voice; colon and semi-colon; and further fundamentals of correct usage.
All Middle School pupils are expected to read at least two novels each term: one of these is set by the class teacher and the other is a free choice from the appropriate year group reading list. Each week the girls actively reflect on their reading, completing a log as part of their prep. At the end of each term, they are tested on their knowledge and understanding of the set text.