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 70 and 80 students studying English in the Sixth Form, making it one of the most popular subjects in the school, with over 80% getting A*, A or B. We regularly prepare applicants to read English at Oxford or Cambridge and our success rate over the last decade of over 50% compares very well with the national average of around 20%. Excellence is both celebrated and rewarded, with Essay of the Month prizes for both junior and senior pupils.

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. The study of a whole Shakespeare text is compulsory for all – in recent years, students have studied Twelfth Night, Richard III, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Coriolanus. 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.

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 or To Kill a Mocking Bird. For coursework, which is worth 40% of the overall grade, they will produce one essay on a modern drama text and one essay on a Literary Heritage text, by Austen, Dickens or Shakespeare.

Upper School (A Level)

We follow the OCR specification at A Level. There are two examined papers: Drama & Poetry pre-1900 and Comparative & 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 & 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 the social, cultural and political context in which it was produced and 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 Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, among others. Students will be exposed to some of the greatest writing that these islands have ever produced.

The Comparative & Contextual study is a prose-based paper, in which students focus on a specific topic. These include 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 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. Excellence is encouraged and rewarded by monthly ‘essay of the month’ prizes and there are annual competitions for short story writing and poetry.