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 plays a key role in Sixth Form chemistry because it is at the heart of student learning. Regular practical work helps students develop crucial dexterity, observation and interpretation skills, in addition to providing an opportunity to reinforce and contextualise the relevant concepts.

The study of chemistry develops many transferrable and higher-order thinking skills. It refines students’ scientific enquiry skills; their confidence in 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.

Cambridge Pre U chemistry is a linear course, with exams taken at the end of the Upper Sixth year. Each class is taught by two teachers, one focusing on organic chemistry and related topics, the other on inorganic and physical chemistry topics. There is no coursework and the practical component is assessed in a separate practical examination.

Pre U chemistry is a rigorous, academically stretching and well-respected course that develops students’ critical and lateral thinking skills. The syllabus follows similar concepts to traditional A level courses, however there is more attention placed on scientific models that can be used to describe particular concepts, as well as the limitations of those models. Students can access nine grades with the grade of D1 recognised as being higher than A* at A level.

The content and assessment of Pre U provides an excellent foundation for students who hope to study chemistry or a chemistry-related subject at university, while also accommodating the broad academic needs of students whose educational aspirations lie in other fields.

Learning journey - Lower Sixth

The start of the Lower Sixth year provides an excellent opportunity for students to build on analytical and practical skills developed in earlier years. One side of the course moves from quantitative analysis into organic chemistry, which is structured around the framework of functional group levels. During the Lent and Summer term, students are introduced to functional groups not seen in previous years, including ketones and aldehydes, alongside the mechanisms by which functional groups are added or substituted onto molecules.

On the other side of the course, the study of atomic structure proceeds to form a basis for the investigation of chemical bonding. In Lent term, detailed analysis of the main group elements and their compounds provides further opportunity for qualitative and quantitative practical work, as does the energetics topic which is studied in the Summer term.

Learning journey - Upper Sixth

The study of organic chemistry started in the previous year continues well into Upper Sixth, with analysis of carboxylic acids and their derivatives rounding off pupils’ studies of the various functional group levels. Arenes are the final organic molecules to be introduced, before the basis of acidity, stereochemistry and chemical analysis are investigated. A whirlwind tour of crystal structures rounds off the year for the organic side of the course.

In the physical chemistry side of the course, students begin the year by tackling the quantitative topics of kinetics and entropy, followed by equilibrium. Calculators can finally be largely put away for the colourful transition metals topic, before ample time is given over to revision and preparation for the final exams.

Providing stretch

Each year students enter a variety of competitions to extend their knowledge, including the Chemistry Olympiad. In 2017 Perse pupils secured 17 gold awards – five of which were awarded to Lower Sixth students – 23 silver and 27 bronze awards. 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.

One student was awarded the top Roentgenium, whilst others achieved six gold, eight silver and seven copper awards in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge C3L6 competition in 2017. 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. Three students were offered prestigious Nuffield Research Placements, and eleven 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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