The Perse School


Practical work is at the core of our approach, helping students develop dexterity, observation and interpretation skills

Our aim

Chemistry is a popular and successful subject at The Perse with almost half of the Sixth Form studying the subject.

Practical work is at the core of student learning – regular practical work helps students develop crucial dexterity, observation and interpretation skills.

The study of chemistry develops many transferrble and higher-order thinking skills. It refines students’ scientific enquiry skills; their confidence selecting the right methods and carrying out practical work; their ability to explain changes observed at macro and microscopic level; and their capacity to interpret and critically assess others’ interpretations, such as those made in the media.

We offer A level or Pre-U: although different in their make-up, both courses are very rigorous and provide excellent preparation for university.  Each class is taught by two teachers, one focusing on organic chemistry and related topics, the other on inorganic and physical chemistry topics.

For students joining The Perse in the Sixth Form, we have developed launchpad material which is issued to pupils at the end of Year 11 and includes an online test that covers key GCSE topics we build upon in the Sixth Form.

Learning journey - A level

The course provides an excellent balance between traditional chemistry and contemporary topics that are often in the media and affect everyday life. These include climate change, medical applications, pharmaceuticals and chemistry research.

The course is academically rigorous, and develops critical and lateral thinking skills.  It is a reformed A level: the material is examined in three written papers at the end of the Upper Sixth, one of which includes synoptic questions as well as assessing conceptual and theoretical understanding of experimental methods.

Learning journey - Pre-U

Pre-U chemistry is a rigorous and academically stretching course that is particularly well suited to students who hope to study chemistry or a chemistry-related subject at university. The syllabus follows similar concepts to A level but has more content and is more challenging. The level of demand is reflected in the assessment, such that the top grade is deemed higher than A* at A level.

The Pre-U is also a linear course, with exams taken at the end of the Upper Sixth. There is no coursework and the practical component is assessed in a separate practical examination.

Providing stretch

Each year students enter a variety of competitions to extend their knowledge, including the Chemistry Olympiad. In 2016 Perse pupils secured 15 gold awards – six of which were awarded to Lower Sixth students – 27 silver and 16 bronze awards, with one student selected to take part in the second round, putting him in the top 50 in the country. In 2015, one sixth former was selected to compete in the UK team in the International Chemistry Olympiad in Azerbaijan, where he came first in the UK team and 45th in the world.

Students secured four top Roentgenium, nine gold, seven silver and 12 copper awards in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge C3L6 competition in 2016. Other competitions we regularly enter include the Rugby Sixth Form Chemistry quiz, the Bill Bryson Award and the science quiz at Hills Road Sixth Form College.

We help Lower Sixth students secure summer placements. In 2015 three students were offered prestigious Nuffield Research Placements, and 11 won Gold CREST awards for projects completed on placements. Students’ work has been published in journals, such as this article on aspirin in The Spectator.

We encourage wide reading to stimulate intellectual curiosity and develop new interests, understanding and skills. Chemistry students are encouraged to consider delving into John Elmsley’s The Elements of Murder, Val McDermid’s Forensics – The Anatomy of Crime and Addy Prissy’s What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology, as well as the Nobel Lectures.


Beyond the classroom

Chemists frequently come to give lectures as part of our 42 society. Recent speakers include Nobel prize winning chemist Sir John Walker. The Department also recently hosted a hands-on lecture about stereochemistry presented by Dr Richard Stephenson of the University of East Anglia, while STEM Club welcomed Kirsty Muirhead, Data Content Editor at the Royal Society of Chemistry, for an insight into scientific publishing.

Our Medical Forum is for those students considering a career in medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine, to provide information about these professions and to work together on how to put together successful university applications.

A weekly lunchtime club for sixth formers, Livermorium, helps students delve deeper into chemistry. It provides an excellent opportunity to prepare for university interviews, the Chemistry Olympiad and other competitions.

We make good use of our Cambridge location and particularly enjoy attending lectures at the Cambridge Science Festival.


Chemistry at university

Students considering a career in medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine can attend our Medical Forum. This society offers an insight into these professions and an opportunity to work with peers and advisers to put together successful university applications.

We support all students who wish to apply for chemistry or chemistry-related degrees at university through activities including extension classes, personal statement advice and mock interviews, lectures and study-day visits. Each year students get experience of research through varied work placements and some have secured Nuffield Bursaries and Gold CREST awards.

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