This paper examines English teachers' understanding of the imagination and how they think it is developed in the classroom. A small sample of Heads of English from East and West Sussex secondary comprehensive schools in the south-east of England were interviewed. Findings are analysed in light of relevant approaches to English teaching over the past century. A complex picture emerges. Teachers' descriptions of the imagination are clearly redolent of Romantic ideas and development of the imagination was expressed as crucial in English teaching. Yet, paradoxically, developing the imagination is no longer seen as a central pedagogic concern. Other influences dominate classroom practice. Assessment of National Curriculum requirements, English teaching conceived as a series of discrete skills and the changing status of the mass media in the curriculum have, it is argued, all contributed to a shift of emphasis. Developing the imagination has been sidelined. Furthermore, innovative approaches from a tradition of English teaching have been occluded. A school culture conducive to imaginative work, together with a clear pedagogy, are now imperative. Additionally, professional insecurity is one of the consequences for teachers dislocated from the subject's history by other demands. The paper concludes that a re-examination of an earlier tradition of English teaching is needed, but one that recasts that tradition to find new understandings for developing the imagination in the classroom.