With excellent academic success and a thriving enrichment programme, our English Department’s simple aims are to foster a love of reading and to develop expertise in writing.

Head of Department: Mrs Joanne West

Lower School curriculum

Our overriding aims for Key Stage 3 are to foster a love of reading and to develop expertise in writing; throughout the year groups, girls are taught to read critically and to write precisely.

All pupils in Remove (Year 7) to Upper Fourth (Year 9) are taught in mixed ability classes using Microsoft One Note to facilitate the curriculum. We have a planned overview of each year encompassing a range of units across Literature and Language. Each unit has one formally assessed common task, allowing us to track progress and aid individual learning. Alongside this, students regularly enjoy library lessons on a fortnightly basis and are strongly encouraged to read for pleasure. Basic skills are enhanced with the support of Century Tech – an intelligent intervention tool that combines artificial intelligence with the latest research in learning science and neuroscience.

In the first term of Remove (Year 7), we study autobiography using extracts from Roald Dahl, Michelle Obama and Malala Yousufzai as inspiration for creative writing. Other units include language skills, detective fiction, poetry and an introduction to Shakespeare.

The Lower Fourth (Year 8) begin with a unit on comedy featuring A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Blithe Spirit. This is followed in the second term with the study of language skills, then poetry from Different Cultures. The third term is spent at Downe House Sauveterre where students read and enjoy Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

The Upper Fourth (Year 9) curriculum is used to develop many of the skills that are essential for both GCSEs. Students start the year with a modern play such as Educating Rita or The Crucible. They then go on to study A Christmas Carol as a 19th century novel and Romeo and Juliet, mirroring elements of GCSE Literature and Language. The Summer term is dedicated to poetry and oral work with a collaborative project with the Religious Studies department.

Upper School curriculum

In the Lower Fifth and Upper Fifth (Years 10 and 11), girls are prepared for AQA GCSE English Language (8700) and AQA GCSE English Literature (8702). For the literature course, we currently study Much Ado About Nothing, Pride and Prejudice or Jekyll and Hyde, An Inspector Calls and Love and Relationships from the AQA Anthology. Pupils also have the opportunity to complete a speaking and listening assessment alongside their Language GCSE.

Sixth Form curriculum

Our Sixth Form girls follow the AQA English Literature syllabus A. The set texts studied for examination at the end of the two year course are Othello, The Handmaid’s Tale, Wuthering Heights or The Great Gatsby, A Streetcar Named Desire, Feminine Gospels (Duffy) and a selection of love poetry. There is also scope for a range of other texts to be taught as part of the girls’ studies: for the coursework (non-exam assessment) which is assessed via a comparative academic essay of 2500 words, girls read widely in a shared area of study.

English enrichment

Girls from every year group are encouraged to make the most of a range of opportunities including author talks, debating, book groups and the creative writing club. They are also encouraged to enter both School and national creative writing and essay competitions. We plan each year to take our exam classes to see theatre productions of the set texts and seek out opportunities to enhance their learning such as providing whole year lectures.

Full details of the curriculum are available in the GCSE and Sixth Form options publications. Further information about the teaching and learning of English may be obtained by contacting the Head of Department, Mrs Joanne West.

Meet the English Department

Mrs Jo West (Head of Department)

Mrs West has been teaching for twenty-two years in a variety of contexts and is a former AQA examiner. She is a keen advocator of the School’s ethos of encouraging each girl to develop and make the most of her individual strengths. She also drives the Department’s philosophy of promoting all forms of literacy; reading, writing, speaking and listening. The Department aims to give the girls the tools to flourish in later life and become lifelong independent learners.

Mr Justin Bartholomew (Second in Department)

Mr Bartholomew has also taught for twenty-two years and has plenty of teaching experience both in the UK and abroad. He is a qualified EAL teacher and current AQA examiner. Mr Bartholomew is a keen proponent of literacy throughout the School curriculum and he is currently looking at strategies to promote this further.

Dr Andrew Atherton (English academic enrichment responsibility holder)

Dr Atherton is Head of Oxbridge and the Elective Programme. He currently runs sessions with Sixth Form on English at University and mentors our Oxbridge applicants for English.

Mr John Owen

Mr Owen has over forty years of classroom experience. He has a wealth of knowledge and expertise that students and staff are able to draw from!

Miss Isla McLachlan

Miss McLachlan is the newest member of the Department, joining the English team full time in September 2019. She graduated from the University of Nottingham with a First Class Honours degree. Her favourite book is The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan.

Rev’d Anthea Platt

Rev’d Platt is a part-time teacher alongside her role as Chaplain. She taught for many years before becoming a Chaplain fifteen years ago. She is keen for students to enjoy English and develop a joy of reading for pleasure.

Mrs Jess Boswell

Mrs Boswell is currently on maternity leave, but due to return this December as a full-time teacher of English. Terry Pratchett is her favourite author.

Mrs Beth Mears-Smith

Mrs Mears-Smith teaches English on a part-time basis and in January 2020, she will take on the role of Housemistress of the Upper School House, AGN. Birdsong and Alice in Wonderland are among her favourite reads.

Miss Lucinda Gates

Literary News

Tours & Open Mornings

The best way to find out more about Downe House is to experience it for yourself. Book a personal tour or join us at one of our Open Mornings, available throughout the year.

Now accepting more Day Pupils for September 2025! Learn more at our Open Event on Thursday 9 May.
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