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.
- Staff List
- Curriculum - AS/A Level
- Curriculum - IGCSE
- Curriculum - KS3
- Reading Lists
- Creative Writing Club Magazines
Mrs Hannah Simcock - Head of Department BA (Oxon), PGCE (Sussex)
Joined the English Department at St Catherine’s in 2015, and still can’t quite believe that her job means reading and discussing brilliant literature every day. Current literary favourites include Jane Austen, George Eliot, Ian McEwan and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 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. Taught English in Spain and China prior to joining St. Catherine’s, and now leads the St Catherine’s Alsama Project connecting our Sixth Formers with Syrian refugees studying English in Lebanon. Will be on Maternity Leave from October Half Term 2023; Mrs Whittingham will take on her Senior School classes and Mrs Kean her Middle School ones.
Mrs Sarah Strachan - Second in Department
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 Catherine Harrison BA HDipEd(Wits) MA(Stell.)
Started her teaching career in South Africa and was eventually a Head Teacher. In the UK, Catherine has taught International Baccalaureate and GCSEs at Charterhouse. She is fascinated by linguistics and the way language can be weaponised and she enjoys reading poetry. Catherine has two married daughters who live locally, and she loves the theatre, cinema and the outdoors. Her reading includes non-fiction and fiction, and her particular area of interest lies in post-colonial work. Curled up on the couch with the dog and the cat, Catherine loves to be in the company of Adiche, Angelou and Atwood – and that’s just the beginning of the alphabet!
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 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 2032-2024 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 are Measure for Measure and poems from the CIE anthology Songs of Ourselves Volume 2 (which includes poets such as Thomas Hardy, Alice Oswald, George Herbert and Imtiaz Dharker). The prose set text is Ian McEwan’s Atonement.
The U6 of 2023-2024 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 include The Merchant of Venice, as well as Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The latter paper requires study of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and a volume of modern poetry by Natasha Trethewey, former US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner.
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
IGCSE English Language (2024-2026) SpecificationIGCSE English Literature (2023-2025) SpecificationCIE English Language IGCSE and English Literature IGCSE are taken by all girls.
(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.
(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 study of the CIE Poetry Anthology (fifteen poems by different poets ranging across a period of about two centuries) and Daphne du Maurier’s modern Gothic novel Rebecca
- Paper 2 (Drama) comprises Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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. The U3 begin with story-telling, Romantic poetry and the art of rhetoric. In the Fourth Form, whole texts by Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Dickens are taught. 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. We use OneNote for shorter tasks, and paper for extended writing. 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: determiners and clauses; 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; active and passive voice; colon and semi-colon; and further fundamentals of correct usage.
All Middle School pupils are expected to read for pleasure as a matter of course. Each week the girls actively reflect on their reading, completing a log as part of their prep.