Head of Department

Mr G J N NeillBA, MA, PGCE


The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

Alan Bennett, The History Boys

We firmly believe at Cranleigh that the study of English should be interesting, stimulating and enjoyable. Our teaching is designed with these objectives in mind; we aim to produce students who have been genuinely engaged by the material they have read and who have developed a passion for the written word which will stay with them for life. This a subject wonderfully rich in ideas, nuances and possibilities and we want our students to discover this for themselves. To this end, therefore, they are exposed to all sorts of texts and stimuli: the department is an experienced and talented one, with a wide range of interests, which they are actively encouraged to share with their students.

The tangible results of this philosophy are clear: we regularly have between 60 and 70 students studying English in the Sixth Form, making it one of the most popular subjects in the school, with 49.4% of students attaining an A or A* and 84.8% getting A*, A or B over the last five years.

Lower School (IGCSE)

In the Fourth Form at Cranleigh, students should expect to find themselves both challenged and engaged. They will be exposed to a wide range of texts, drawing on their teachers’ enthusiasm and expertise, and incorporating prose, poetry and drama. Students are encouraged to develop independent skills of annotation and note-taking and to write clear and cogent analytical essays, firmly anchored in the relevant text. One of the highlights of the Fourth Form English programme is the Independent Reading Project, which enables the students to apply the skills they have learned to a book of their own choosing; they respond to it both creatively and analytically.

In the Lower Fifth and Upper Fifth, we follow the Edexcel iGCSE syllabus, for both English Language and English Literature. For English Language, students study an anthology of non-fiction pieces, covering subjects as diverse as donkey racing in Pakistan, hunting narwhals in the Arctic and travelling through Somalia at the height of famine. They will also focus on transactional writing – writing for specific purposes and audiences. For English Literature, they will study a wide and varied range of texts. In the exam, they will answer questions on a poetry anthology (including poems by the likes of Blake, Browning, Duffy, Keats, Kipling, MacNiece, Rossetti and Shakespeare) and a novel – either Of Mice and Men, Things Fall Apart, The Whale Rider or To Kill a Mocking Bird. All students also study a play by Shakespeare (either Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet) as part of their coursework.

Upper School (A Level)

We follow the OCR specification at A Level. There are two examined papers: Drama and Poetry pre-1900 and Comparative and Contextual Study. Each paper is worth 40%. There is also a coursework component, worth 20%, in which students write about three texts, all of which have to have been published post-1900 and one of which must be post-2000.

For the Drama and Poetry pre-1900 paper, we study two plays and one poet. We study a Shakespeare play (one from a choice of six), looking not only at the text itself but also a range of critical and directorial interpretations. The other play is studied in conjunction with the poet, for comparative purposes. This might enable students to explore the treacherous, candlelit world of Jacobean tragedy, the roisterous “laughing comedy” of Oliver Goldsmith, or the brittle, witty world of high Victorian society. The poets on offer include Chaucer, Coleridge, Milton and Tennyson. Students will be exposed to some of the greatest writing that these islands have ever produced.

The Comparative and Contextual study is a prose-based paper, in which students focus on a specific topic. These include American Literature 1880-1940, Dystopia, the Gothic and the Immigrant Experience. Students study two novels, over the course, within their chosen topic and are also encouraged to read widely around the topic. There is the opportunity to engage with some really challenging and enjoyable modern novels here, including the likes of The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, Terrorist by John Updike, The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Trips and EVENTS

We frequently take theatre trips to London and Stratford, both of which are easily accessible from Cranleigh. We also run the Minot Society, for sixth form enrichment. There are two creative writing competitions each year, prizes for which are awarded at Speech Day: the James Harpur Poetry Prize and the Stacy Aumonier Prize for Short Story Writing.