A day in the life of Mark Chutter

When it comes to planning his classes, this head of English at elite private girls' school Roedean is inspired by his atmospheric Gothic surroundings – and by the institution's can-do culture
3rd October 2014, 1:00am


A day in the life of Mark Chutter


My working day begins in the chapel, singing Jerusalem. It is the start of term and, once we have finished, all the staff line up in the corridors for the traditional handshaking, where the girls and teachers greet one other. It is a wonderful opportunity to make each other's acquaintance.

I am the newly appointed faculty lead for English and master teacher here at Roedean School in East Sussex, and I am fascinated by this place. This year I am teaching the Gothic unit of A-level English literature and I will be using the school's atmospheric setting to inspire the girls.

I am often reminded of Catherine Morland, the heroine in Jane Austen's Gothic parody Northanger Abbey, when I look at the building, with its turrets and panelled rooms. My classroom even has a secret door and passageway leading to the chapel cloister.

The school was founded in 1888 in Brighton's Kemp Town by the Lawrence sisters, Penelope, Dorothy and Millicent. It moved to its present position in Roedean Way 10 years later, built on the cliffs overlooking the English Channel. The school was created by women for women.

After chapel, I move to my first lesson, with the upper third form, where we look at To Autumn by Keats. How apposite, I think. Next comes A-level literature. We debate whether T S Eliot's The Waste Land deserves its place in the canon and how "in yer face" form and genre are in the work of the playwright Sarah Kane. I ask the students what is shocking and graphic about her play 4.48 Psychosis.

At lunchtime, staff and girls converse over dinner and then I dash off to subject support. Every subject at Roedean offers extra help to the girls as well as support for particularly talented students.

In terms of "enrichment", I have arranged various visits, including a joint trip this month with our politics department to visit Parliament. I think it is essential to inspire our learners by giving them an understanding of the world around them.

I have also arranged for the poet John Agard to perform at the school to celebrate National Poetry Day. At Roedean, we have a "can-do" culture, empowering the girls to explore their creativity and live up to high expectations.

Last week, I was honoured to deliver a lecture in the Roedean theatre to the whole sixth form titled "The Gothic imagination: literature, art and culture", focusing on Bram Stoker's Dracula. It was interactive and had a university feel, aimed at giving an awareness of what undergraduate teaching is like.

In my lessons, I use questioning in a penetrating way in order to extend learner responses: "But why?" "How?" "Explain." "Where is your evidence?" At Roedean, we really promote an inquisitive ethos that develops thought, argument and debate.

The end of the day is civilised: afternoon tea with the girls in the boarding house. Then I return to my classroom, the Lieutenant Colonel Charles Frederick Blyth Room, and contemplate all the intellectual feminists who have studied here at this wonderful school.

So there you have it. Roedean has it all - history, tradition and reputation. It nurtures the most intelligent female thinkers, movers and shakers of the 21st century. I am extremely privileged to work here.

Your day

Do you want to tell the world's teachers about your working day, the unique circumstances in which you teach or the brilliance of your class? If so, email richard.vaughan@tesglobal.com

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