Key Stage 4
English is a compulsory subject in the National Curriculum at Key Stage Four. All pupils pursue a GCSE English qualification. This is taught over three hour-long periods each week. During Year Ten and Year Eleven, pupils are placed in ability groups: X, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Sets are decided based on attainment at Key Stage Three and teachers’ detailed knowledge of pupils.
Presently, the OCR GCSE English syllabus is used. Pupils are required to study three texts: one must be a play by Shakespeare, one a prose text and one a selection of poetry. When studying prose and poetry, the Department is obliged to include one text from Britain’s literary heritage and one from a different culture or tradition in order to fulfil the requirements of the qualification. Currently, the chosen texts for study are ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ and the World War One poetry of Wilfred Owen. Writing skills are also assessed along with reading through one additional Controlled Assessment response. There is also a terminal examination (based on reading and writing non-fiction) which pupils sit at the end of the course.
The OCR specification in English encourages candidates to be inspired, engaged and challenged by following a broad, coherent, satisfying and worthwhile course of study. It intends to prepare learners to make informed decisions about further learning opportunities and career choices, to use language to participate effectively in society and employment and to develop their enthusiasm for reading. Although no longer part of the formal assessment, pupils are also expected to develop their speaking and listening skills through discussion, individual presentations and group activities.
The course allows pupils to:
- demonstrate skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing as necessary to communicate with others confidently, effectively, precisely and appropriately;
- express themselves creatively and imaginatively;
- understand the patterns, structures and conventions of written and spoken English;
- select and adapt speech and writing to different situations and audiences;
- understand how variations in spoken and written language relate to identity and cultural diversity;
- become critical readers of a range of texts, including multimodal texts;
- use reading to gain access to knowledge and to develop their own skills as writers;
- understand that texts from the British literary heritage have been influential and significant over time and explore the meaning of these today;
- understand how literature from other cultures is influential;
- connect ideas, themes and issues, drawing on a range of texts.
In pupils’ first year of study at Key Stage Four, they complete three Controlled Assessments. Firstly, ‘Of Mice and Men’ is studied. This is an enjoyable novella which was chosen from OCR’s set text lists in order to engage pupils and introduce them to the depth of study at GCSE level.
The first term of Year Ten is spent reading, discussing and analysing the text in preparation for the completion of the assessment. Studying this text from a different culture (1930s America) gives pupils the opportunity to consider the text in context. The trials endured by itinerant works during the Great Depression are explored in detail. Normally, two lessons per week are dedicated to this work, while the third lesson is focussed on developing pupils’ writing skills.
After the Christmas break, pupils move on to study the poetry of Wilfred Owen. A similar weekly lesson structure is used with pupils preparing to write a Controlled Assessment on the texts they have read while simultaneously developing their writing skills. Studying poetry within our literary heritage enables pupils to reflect on the horrors of the First World War and offer their personal responses to the images and themes Owen presents.
Finally, pupils complete a Controlled Assessment on imaginative writing. They are able at this point to make use of the skills they have been developing in the lesson per week dedicated to this area. It is two linked fictional text that pupils are expected to produce, giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their mature prose styles.
At this stage, the English Department enjoys working with many mature, conscientious young adults. At the start of the year, pupils begin to study ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in preparation to write their fourth (and final) Controlled Assessment response. Two lessons per week are spent on this, while the third lesson is used to prepare pupils for the reading part of the non-fiction examination. As Shakespeare is the only writer on the National Curriculum to be a compulsory part of pupils’ education in English, the Department emphasises the importance of his literature in inspiring those who came after him.
The Controlled Assessment based on ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tends to be linked to themes or characters as presented in the play, such as an evaluation of the relationship between the protagonists or an analysis of love as a central idea. In addition to exploring Shakespeare’s rich language choices, pupils are also able to reflect on how his themes are still relevant in the 21st century.
In November, pupils complete a mock examination which helps to inform further teaching. After Christmas, some pupils are given the opportunity to revisit a Controlled Assessment task in which they were less successful or did not meet their target grade. While it is not possible to ‘rewrite’ a task submitted for marking (in fact, pupils do not get to see any of their work once it has been handed in), pupils can complete a different Controlled Assessment task in order to receive a larger number of marks. Preparation is then made for the second mock examination, which is held in March.
English teachers also assist pupils in the creation of documents for their ILP folders at this time, which they will use for their mock interviews, college applications or at other times during their adult lives. Finally, pupils sit their non-fiction examination in the summer examination season. The Department focusses on the skills needed to be successful on this paper; this focus has a parallel with the functional skills pupils will need for later life.