The English syllabus in Years 7 to 9 focuses on the central areas of Speaking and Listening and Reading and Writing, as required by the National Curriculum. The department plans its work according to the needs and capacities of the pupils, recognising that English is the basic tool of thought in almost all subjects but also that the study of human experience portrayed in literature can extend the boy’s awareness of his own identity and the social relationships of which he is a part.
In practical terms much work in English is stimulated by responding directly or indirectly to reading. There is a departmental stock of more than 10,000 books to satisfy the requirements of the National Curriculum. The books have been selected to challenge and extend the interests of every age group, to stimulate critical response and to encourage reading. All classes in Years 7 and 8 are regularly taken to the School Library where they are instructed in the use of its many resources and encouraged to read more widely from its excellent stock of fiction.
The writing process often begins with reading, although personal experience and group oral work are also important stimuli. Writing for a variety of audiences is encouraged. Accuracy in matters of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., is emphasised in the context of the pupil’s own writing rather than by reliance on the isolated framework of special exercises. Classroom discussion is extended to activity in the Drama Studio, through improvisation and scripted work, as an integral part of the timetable.
In years 10 and 11, all boys follow IGCSE courses in English Language and English Literature with a folder of coursework and examinations set by AQA. Coursework is also a vital component of the specifications for OCR English Literature at AS and A2 level and boys are encouraged to read a wide array of criticism relating to the set texts for examinations. The School also offers AQA English Language as an A-Level, which allows boys to investigate areas of linguistic interest and produce professional quality pieces of original writing.
To broaden the boys’ interest, the department arranges theatre visits, external speakers and attendance at a day of textually related lectures. Many of the boys are debaters, often succeeding at the highest level in national competitions. There is also a lively culture of creative writing in the school, evidenced in the termly publication of ‘Scribe’ and the School magazine, ‘Skylark’.
Habs has a long history of producing school plays of exceptionally high standards and senior students regularly have the opportunity to perform on the Edinburgh Fringe. There are three major Co-curricular productions a year involving the Senior, Middle and Junior schools, a weekly Drama Club for boys in Years 7 and 8, as well as annual House Drama Competitions for all boys.
Drama, as a discrete subject, can be taken in Year 9 with the option to continue to GCSE in Years 10 and 11. Theatre Studies at AS and A2 level is also offered in the Sixth Form. Boys, who opt to take the subject at examination level, study all aspects of practical theatre from the perspective of the director, designer and actor including the principles of lighting, sound, set design, costume and make-up. The School’s Theatre Technician provides expert support in these areas as well as overseeing set construction and prop-making for Drama lessons and School productions. The department also appoints annually a graduate Director-in-Residence who assists in all aspects of co-curricular Drama.
The department takes full advantage of its proximity to London and there is a considerable programme of visits to plays in the West End, the South Bank and Stratford-Upon-Avon for boys studying Drama at all levels.