English Matters at THS Sixth FormFriday 23 July 2021 | By Samantha Hockney
Miss Bird, Head of THS Sixth Form, spoke to Abbie, Stella and Rosie, all current Year 12 pupils studying either English Language or Literature to A-Level, and asked them why they thought in the last few years big businesses had added a new slant to their focus on STEAM subjects, by adding an A for the Arts.
“I think it’s the skills that you get from reading texts, and of course the way English encourages you to think in a way that’s purely analytical and evaluative. We encounter books as if they actually were people; they give you empathy, let you see problem-solving in action. I imagine that gives you an insight into the workforce, into workplace problems as well.”
“The most important book I have read this year was Girl, Woman, Other. As a white female at an independent school, I suddenly had an insight into the struggles that black females in much more diverse parts of the UK have, their struggle for identity. Literature lets you walk in someone else’s shoes, see through their eyes, in a way that other subjects don’t. We have a better understanding of the human condition, because we see both the difference and the similarity of experience that people from other cultures have – whether that’s geographically or historically distant from our own.”
“Woman on the Edge of Time has been an eye-opening novel for me. It was published in 1976, but like Orwell’s 1984 it has an alarming prescience; one of its imagined futures is very like our present of social media and normalised plastic surgery. It’s helped me become aware of the historical reach of feminist counterculture. I’ve realised that perhaps the trend for Young Adult dystopian futures, in books and films, actually reflects the lived experience of teenagers nowadays, growing up into a world of extreme social injustice and a climate emergency. It can feel like we are the first generation to challenge the status quo, the band of survivors in the wasteland. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I am reading for my coursework, is the kind of book which demands the reader realises period fiction is not just cosplaying in bonnets. Unlike the recent Netflix series Bridgerton, Bronte’s novel deals with issues that are current and universal: child abuse; alcoholism; questions of moral integrity at its core.”
“Books like these lead to discussion about what it means to be human. They bring us together in the Sixth Form building as well, where chats about Sylvia Plath can happen as much in the kitchen as in the classroom. English Language at this level is so different from GCSE too, we’ve studied a real diversity of relevant topics: the social uses and different registers of English; the language’s history and its future adaptations; global influences as World English; language acquisition in children; creative writing. The analysis we do of literature is transferable to our other subjects too, and applicable to careers like military intelligence which I am interested in. In the same way, other subjects have enhanced our English A-levels. My EPQ on French and German Romanticism means I have a better grasp of the seeds from which the English Romantics like Blake took inspiration. I was introduced to Barthes’ concept of the death of the author, through my EPQ on the extent to which an author’s life should be considered alongside their works.”
“To get younger teenagers reading I think it’s important to let them read anything they are really enthusiastic about, rather than insisting that they just read the classics of literature. Plenty of people find books like Percy Jackson are a gateway to other literature because they are exciting and accessible. Manga, Doctor Who stories and Wimpy Kid are all still reading, all still improving literacy and letting students open what Blake calls “the doors of perception”.”