Words. Words are truly wonderful things. They allow us to categorise and make sense of the world around us and the curious creatures called human beings who inhabit it; they allow us to fully formulate and express ideas, emotions and stories we experience within us; and they allow us to listen to, learn from and enjoy the ideas, emotions and stories of others. Words are the musical notes of scholarship, media and literature, and we who have the pleasure to deal in them should endeavour to retain, with every new word we find, the joy we felt when, at the age of eighteen months, we finally managed to successfully express what we had been yearning to express: “Duck!”

The curiosity and boldness of attempt we witness in a young child learning about themselves and the world, the frustration yet tenacity as they attempt to express themselves and the subsequent satisfaction when an attempt is successful is worth taking as a model for any age. We all learn from the world and others and at times battle for language and the right way to express ourselves in a given situation, and we all feel great satisfaction when we hit upon that right way.

At Hampton Court House we endeavour to further ignite our students’ natural curiosity, love of learning, delight in storytelling and joy of self-expression. Any blocks or fears that have crept in, we hope to gently encourage away so that every child can experience the freedom and thrill of sharing their thoughts, stories and work with their classmates, perhaps the wider school and hopefully the world beyond the school. We guide the students in learning the tools of language, the words available and the different techniques in using those words artfully. We allow them to experience these through inspiring stories, extracts and poems written by those we admire as having mastered the art of the language. We show the students the form and teach them the ‘rules’, with an aim of allowing them to experiment with style and then mindfully break some of those ‘rules’ as they develop a style of their own. During the process they will learn how to look at another’s style discerningly and critique the use of language in its expression of theme. They will learn to cristalise, structure and efficiently express ideas, both on paper and vocally, with confidence and clarity of voice. And, as the icing on the cake, they will experience and come to love and appreciate some wonderful and absorbing pieces of literature, moving poetry, powerful speeches, and persuasive media.

All the skills that the students develop are assessed at various stages along the school road. In the younger years, they are assessed internally, in a confidence-building manner, by the teacher. In Year 6, they are assessed in the relaxed yet formal manner of the 11 Plus Common Entrance. In Year 8, they are assessed in the stimulating 13 Plus Common Entrance papers. These are excellent precursors to the International GCSEs in English Language and Literature, which the students sit in Year 11.

Of course, the greatest proof of how these skills are developing, however, will shine out of the students in their general happiness, confidence and ability to express themselves in every subject, school life, home life and whatever they choose to do in the world, for I can think of few instances in which the skills of communication will not enhance an experience.

NB Shakespeare used over 17,000 words (the average vocabulary in England is between 4,000 and 5,000 words) and was, I am sure, still learning and inventing new ones until his last days. We should never stop collecting!

Recommended reading 2019

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The production took a modern approach, using intricate models and camerawork. The children enjoyed seeing... Ulysses and his companions set sail on a fantastic voyage across hostile seas.

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Edmond Gordon Talk

We were very fortunate to welcome Edmund Gordon to Hampton Court House on Monday 22 May 2017. Edmund is a world-renowned author, university lecturer (King’s college) and expert on the writer. He had just returned from a US tour with his new biography ‘The Invention of Angela Carter’. The timing... of this event was serendipitous; a month exactly until the Year 13 English exam on gothic literature. Edmund spent five years researching Angela Carter and admitted that, by the end of this epic project, he felt he knew Carter better than himself! The seminar focused particularly on the exam text ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and a rich contextualisation of Carter’s spectrum of influences from folklore and surrealism to Japanese culture. He emphasised to students the danger of reading Carter along strictly ‘feminist’ or ‘gothic’ lines, highlighting her playfulness and willingness to shock in re-imagining the latent content within fairytales. Unlike many feminists, she considered men and women as fundamentally alike and strove to represent the female voice in its myriad forms. Carter was fascinated by extrapolating symbols of sexuality and death from ancient fairy tales to subvert the status quo. He urged that Carter’s literature should be appreciated as ‘political’ too; though she would have disliked being limited to any narrow genre. Gordon conversed with our students who clearly demonstrated their knowledge and appreciation of Carter’s repertoire. His depth of insight into Carter’s work, personality and penetrating intellect made for a truly enriching talk which enabled our students to gain an illuminating and intimate understanding of this extraordinary writer.

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HCH Poetry Competition

The English Department held a school-wide Poetry Competition on Tuesday 21st March – World Poetry Day.

After an overwhelming number of entries – three times as many as last year – the winners were chosen. As all entries were anonymous it proved tricky to track the award-winning poets down, but... we can now confirm the joint winners are:

Jasmine (Y12) – ‘The Calm Before’
Charles (Y8) – ‘Reality’

The judges also gave an honourable mention to Asimina (Y9) for her poem ‘Rouge Balloon’ and the anonymous poet who penned ‘Spring’.

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Sixth Form English Trip to The Globe

The White Devil – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, The Globe (27 March 2017)

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