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English

English at Merchiston is about opening up the very best that has been said or written for every boy.

We achieve excellent results but we do this by sharing, with passion, the stories that people have told to one another throughout history to help them make sense of our world and our place in it. Through this, we give your son the ability to:

  • respond searchingly and personally to what he reads
  • think independently and analytically
  • express himself with clarity and accuracy
  • listen sensitively and critically to the views of others.

We believe that literary study expands our pupils' worlds. We believe that literary study nourishes our pupils’ inner lives and develops their emotional literacy.

Staff

Stephanie Binnie

Stephanie Binnie

Head of Department
MA

Mrs Binnie tutors in Chalmers West; she was formerly an Assistant Housemaster in Laidlaw. She was formerly an examiner for OCR GCSE English Literature and is now an examiner for Edexcel IGCSE English Literature. Having been Head of Drama for several years, she assumed the role of Head of English in August 2015.

Gail Cunningham

Gail Cunningham

Teacher of English
BA

Ms Cunningham is a part time teacher in the English Department. She is an ESU trained Debating Coach. She is also a marker for SQA National 5 and Higher English, with over twenty years of marking experience.

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

Teacher of English; Resident Tutor, Chalmers East
BA

Mr Douglas has five years experience as a Teacher of English in Northern Ireland and currently teaches in the III and V Forms. He is a qualified IRFU Stage 4 Head Coach and currently coaches the B1 and B2s. He is a resident tutor in Chalmers East.

Calum Mechie

Calum Mechie

Second in Department, English
MA DPhil

Dr Mechie has a DPhil on George Orwell from The University of Oxford and trained to teach on the bespoke Researchers in Schools programme. He has examined both GCSE and A-Level papers for different exam boards. He is Resident Tutor in Chalmers East and is Second in the English Department

Rosa West

Rosa West

Teacher of English
BSc, MSc

Miss West recently completed a Masters at Edinburgh University having taught previously in London. She took her undergraduate degree at The London School of Economics. She is also Co-Head of Drama and a tutor in Rogerson.

Curriculum

Our curriculum works backwards from our goal of creating confident, articulate and culturally and emotionally literate students, with outstanding exam results.

 In the Sixth-Form, we teach the OCR English Literature A-Level and the SQA Higher English Qualifications. Each allows us to teach a broad range of canonical texts and so to address weighty cultural issues. For the A-Level, we cover the Gothic genre, Shakespearean drama, a range of poetry spanning seven centuries and a novel written within the students' own lifetimes. For the Higher, we cover some Scottish poetry, contemporary drama and a Great American Novel. Success in either qualification requires significant powers of expression, and in the Sixth-Form we work closely with the boys to hone their writing skills, and to develop them beyond GCSE.

In the Fifth and Shell Forms, we teach the Edexcel IGCSE Qualifications: English Literature and English Language. The worldliness of these qualifications means they complement one another well, with themes emerging in the Language course's non-fiction anthology that permeate the texts and poems studied on the Literature course. As well as Shakespeare, we cover modern drama for the extended Literature coursework and a modern novel and poetry for the exam. The Language course also has a coursework component, assessing poetry and creative writing, as well as the exam, which assesses the boys' ability to engage with non-fiction texts and to write in a formal, transactional style.

From J4 to IV Form, the Department concentrates on building the boys' skills and knowledge such that their GCSE and, in some cases, A-Level study appears as a natural extension of what has gone before. In the youngest years, the focus is on core literacy skills while embedding a love of reading, inspired by the wonderful resources of the Spawforth Library. From Second to Fourth Form, students are exposed to increasingly complex texts and are supported in engaging with these in an increasingly critical, analytic way. Some highlights are: Shakespeare (of course!), Burns, When the Guns Fall Silent and the poetry of the First World War, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Department regards the teaching of oracy as central to good English teaching. Historically, we have offered the ESB Qualification. This is currently being reviewed but giving students opportunities to present, recite, read-aloud and, most of all, question is a cornerstone of our practice. 

Activities

In addition to external competitions (e.g. 500 Words short stories, Young Writers Poetry, Mini-Saga and Short Story Competitions,The Staton Essay Prize), the Department also administers four School Prizes with Pringle (I, II, III), Junior (IV, Shell, V), and Senior (LVI, UVI) categories for each:

  • The Kingsley Darling Verse Prize for verse composition (first awarded 1934)
  • The Edwards Reading Prize for reading aloud (first awarded 1944)
  • The School Fiction Prize for prose fiction (first awarded 1998)
  • The Peyrebrune Declamations for public recitation (first awarded 1999) (linked to the Shakespeare Speaking Initiative in IV Form)

The winning entry for the School Fiction Prize is published in the School magazine, as are the winning poems in each category of the Kingsley Darling Verse Prize.

We have partnered with the Edinburgh Bookshop to provide opportunities for author visits and our termly ‘Bag-a-Book’ bookfairs are always popular. The department supports the Spawforth Librarian with the School Book Groups, each of which meets twice a term to discuss a range of titles.

We frequently take boys to the theatre, supplementing the Arts Programme with visits to productions of particular educational value. The annual Lower Sixth trip to Stratford-upon-Avon celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2019: this excursion not only provides an opportunity to watch two RSC productions, but also brings to life the historical context in which Shakespeare lived and worked.

A Morning in the English Department

Our student-led Medical Society provides opportunities for prospective medics to collaboratively apply their scientific knowledge in a medical context. On average, 7% of our Year 13 students have applied for Medicine at university over the last three years.

Merchiston

Through our close links with the Roslin Institute, IGCSE and A Level pupils also get to experience advanced genetics techniques as well as a wide range of the usual practical work offered within schools. Being able to use the Roslin labs has enabled the department to deliver hands on experiments on subject matter elsewhere only able to be taught theoretically.

Ms Williams Head of Biology

Coming from a state school, science was taught very theoretically. Here at Merchiston, we do so many practicals to reinforce our knowledge. This has given me a totally different view on school in general: every day I wake up and I look forward to my lessons

Vincent B Year 11 (S4)

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