New English GCSEs: a guide for Parents and Carers

parents-evening-memeI genuinely enjoy Parents’ Evenings, and the Year 11 event held earlier this week was no exception:  well attended, and happily, with plenty of positives to report to the families of my class.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Waterstones Children’s Books Prize 2017

kiran millwood hargraveThe latest prize has been awarded to Kiran Millwood Hargraves for an adventure book – The Girl of Ink and Stars – which is in fact her debut novel.


Here’s a synopsis:

“Isabella Riosse is the daughter of a cartographer who lives on the island of Joya; an isle both steeped in mythology and shrouded in mystery. For the last thirty years, a strict Governor has forbidden the island inhabitants from venturing beyond their small township.

Isabella is fascinated with the ancient myths of Joya, which is said to have once floated freely over the seas. Preoccupied with ideas of exploration and inspired by the far-flung places her father once documented, she yearns for adventure.

When her best friend Lupe runs away, disappearing into the forbidden forest, Isabella volunteers to bring her back. With only her knowledge of ancient myths and one of her father’s maps to guide her, Isabella ventures into the perilous world beyond, where monsters lurk and magical rivers run.”


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Posted in Children's Books, Competition News, Enrichment, News, Parents Tagged with: ,

Ten empowering female characters in children’s books …

Follow this link for an interesting selection of female characters … the comments underneath the article also give further suggestions.

Which ones have you read?  Do you agree with their inclusion?  What’s missing from the list?


Posted in Children's Books, News, Young Adult

Poem of the Week: w/c 03 April

shrek donkeyWith the Easter holidays approaching, I thought I’d find something appropriate.

GK Chesterton is mostly famous for his Father Brown detective stories, the detective being a priest.  This reflects his religious interests, also echoed in the biblical references towards the end of this poem.  It’s long been a favourite of mine, describing the donkey as a strange and almost monstrous creature, but reminding us that ‘every dog has its day’ …

Another work of Chesterton’s worth exploring is the Absurd novel The Man Who Was Thursday.  It features the recruitment of a poet by the police to infiltrate a gang of anarchists, but nothing is as it seems in this spiritually-flavoured thriller.  There are two especially memorable parts of the book:  the first is a superb chase sequence, and the second, one of my favourite quotations about loneliness and friendship – I think it also links to Shrek, actually:


“Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.”

Here’s the poem – let me know if you enjoy it …

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Posted in A book I recommend, Enrichment, KS4, Poetry Tagged with:

FREE AUDIO: A Streetcar Named Desire

You can access a BBC production of Tennessee Williams’ important play by clicking this link.  The link is valid until 24 April.

A Streetcar Named Desire (one of our A Level texts) is on the surface a domestic drama – the educated, fading beauty with a shady past, Blanche, runs out of options and comes for an extended stay in the claustrophobic home of her sister, Stella, and Stella’s husband, the working-class brute, Stanley (who was so memorably played by Marlon Brando in his first film role).

But the inevitable conflict that follows isn’t just a family tragedy played out in multi-cultural New Orleans – it’s a battle for the soul and direction of a country, finding its feet after the Second World war.  How much of the past can, should, we let go of in moving forward?  What is the ‘cost’ of progress?

‘Streetcar’ explores these and many other issues.  Once heard or seen, never forgotten …

(And excellent revision for the students studying it, naturally)



Posted in A Level Literature, Audio Books, News, Revision Resources Tagged with: ,

Quote of the Day: Ian McEwan

mcewan_1640441cIf you could make a change to anything you’ve written over the years, what would it be?

From my first book, First Love, Last Rites – remove all the pretentious commas doing the work of full stops and replace with full stops. Also, introduce some sensible paragraphing.

My students take note!

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Posted in A Level Literature, GCSE English Literature, KS4, KS5, News Tagged with:

The Science of Revision …

exam hall birdseye

With mock exams coming up for Years 11, 12 and 13, this feels like a timely article from The Guardian.

We all work in different ways, and you need to find a style that helps you.  Personally, I find writing notes is far better for my retention than simply highlighting.  But, what other tips can I offer?

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Posted in A Level Creative Writing, A Level Language, A Level Literature, GCSE English Language, GCSE English Literature, KS4, KS5

Poem of the Week: 05 December 2016

Beech leaves, beech tree, fagus sylvaticia l., covered in hoarfrost, switzerland

Beech leaves, beech tree, fagus sylvaticia l., covered in hoarfrost, switzerland

Here’s something simple, accessible but evocative, to match the increasingly-shorter days and the cold snap we have been experiencing.

What stuck in my mind, from all the poems I’ve read over the years?  The idea of the icy wind being like ‘frosty pepper’ – how lovely is that?


Winter-Time, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

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Posted in Enrichment, KS3, Poetry Tagged with:

Literary Anniversaries: 02 December

I absolutely love the idea that Larkin would dress like this for a picnic on the Yorkshire Moors ...

I absolutely love the idea that Larkin would dress like this for a picnic on the Yorkshire Moors …

We looked at Philip Larkin’s life and times when celebrating his birthday back in August – click here for that post.

What more can we say?

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Posted in December, Enrichment, Literary Anniversaries, Poetry Tagged with:

Quiz Time: how well do you know English phrases?

Ruby Murray was a famous singer in the '50s. But that's not what I'm interested in on a Friday evening ...

Ruby Murray was a famous singer in the ’50s. But that’s not what I’m interested in on a Friday evening …

Let’s start the month with another quiz!

English is full of colloquialisms – informal words or phrases – and my students get to hear quite a few strange ones, with my Southern dialect confusing their Northern ears … for instance, we discussed my liking of a cup of ‘Rosie’ at break time or a tasty ‘Ruby’ on a Friday night.  Can you guess what those are?

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Posted in A Level Language, Enrichment, Fun and Games

Literary Anniversaries: 28 November

Blake was not only a talented poet, but an accomplished illustrator, too.

Blake was not only a talented poet, but an accomplished illustrator, too.

Today we celebrate a birth and commemorate two deaths.

Let’s start with the deaths – of two beloved children’s writers:

  • Ian Serraillier died in 1994.  You can find out more about his life and works by clicking here, where we wished him happy birthday;
  • Enid Blyton also died today in 1968.  We celebrated her birthday back in August, so click here to see what we had to say about her then

But I’d like to focus on William Blake, one of our most highly influential Romantic poets, who was born in 1757.

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Posted in Children's Books, Enrichment, GCSE English Literature, KS4, Literary Anniversaries, November, Poetry Tagged with: , , ,

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