The Perse School

English Literature

Complex issues and challenging themes in an environment of lively discussion and creative analysis

Our aim

English Literature is one of the most established, rigorous and widely-recognised A level courses. It allows students to engage in a stimulating and demanding way with a wide range of texts ranging from the fourteenth century English poet Chaucer to the contemporary British playwright Jez Butterworth.

Studying English Literature at The Perse is lively and interactive, from group work to student-led seminar presentations, from improvisation in class to analysing film language. Discussing complex ideas and challenging themes in a lively and supportive environment is integral to our working methods, and students grow in skill and confidence as they explore texts in detail.

The course is popular and has an outstanding record of success. The qualification is admired by universities and enables students to go on to study a wide range of courses at the highest level and subsequently embark on a variety of prestigious careers.

Students develop their interest in and enjoyment of literature and literary studies as they:

  • Read widely and independently both set texts and others that they have selected for themselves
  • Engage creatively with a substantial body of texts and ways of responding to them
  • Develop and effectively apply their knowledge of literary analysis and evaluation in speech and writing
  • Explore the contexts of the texts they are reading and others’ interpretations of them

At the end of the Upper Sixth the Department treats students to a strawberry tea in the grounds, to celebrate the two years of working together and to wish students well for the future.

Learning journey - Lower Sixth

Students enjoy an immersive experience in literature, in all its genres, performances and manifestations. They develop the skills to reach personal critical responses, engaging with contextual material and wider trends in the literary world.

Learning journey - Upper Sixth

By this stage, students have had the chance to visit Dublin and New York to experience literary studies in the wider English-speaking world.

They are beginning to hone their skills in preparation for their exams and university-level studies. They are accessing higher order skills of analysis and creativity, in preparation for independent study and a comprehensive textual study of their own choosing for coursework.

Providing stretch

English literature is a subject to be enjoyed both inside and outside the classroom and there are many opportunities for theatre trips, lectures, directing, performing and filming as well as gallery and exhibition visits. We regularly run study visits to Dublin and literary tours of New York.

We encourage wide reading to stimulate intellectual curiosity and develop new interests, understanding and skills. In addition to the course-specific reading lists we provide, we encourage students to delve into Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, The Outsider by Albert Camus and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance.

Beyond the classroom

The F.R. Leavis Society – named after the celebrated critic and Perse alumnus, holds weekly seminars to encourage interdisciplinary thought across the arts and humanities. Discussion topics have included the author’s identity crisis, aesthetics and criticism, and romanticism.

Our sixth form Reading Group meets to discuss and debate a wide range of literature with like-minded individuals.

Sixth Formers can take part in Performing Arts and Journalism enrichment activities.


The annual Perse Players production, which rotates each year between an in-house play and an externally-staged musical, is the highlight of the English and drama year, with opportunities for all ages in every aspect of staging a performance.

There are at least nine drama productions during the course of each academic year, providing opportunities for students of all ages. Recent productions have included well and less well known works including works by Shakespeare, musicals like Our House and modern classics like The Lord of the Flies, as well as plays written by students themselves.

We have a range of performance and rehearsal spaces from a fully-equipped theatre to our ‘loft’ rehearsal space, the main hall for theatre in the round and outside spaces for open air or promenade productions. A performing arts centre is under construction at the Upper and will open in autumn 2017. In recent years, productions have been staged at external venues in Cambridge including the ADC, Cambridge Arts Theatre, The Junction, Corpus Christi Playroom and the Mumford Theatre.

Sixth formers take leadership roles in many activities but also enjoy a dedicated programme. For more detail about drama opportunities beyond the classroom, please visit our extra-curricular pages.


There is a wide range of activities in which all students can participate: debating and public speaking events; trips to the theatre; and other cultural events.

We run a mix of lunchtime and after-school clubs including creative writing, film making, book clubs, debating and discussion.

Our in-house writing and public speaking competitions include the Caffall Cup for Public Speaking and The Armitstead poetry competition.

We prepare and enter students for external public speaking and debating events, competitions and workshops including Debating Matters; The English-Speaking Union (two age categories); The Rotary Youth Speaks competition (three age categories); the Cambridge Union Society; and the Oxford Union.

External challenges our pupils enjoy include:

  • The Rotary (Cambridgeshire) and Cambridge University colleges essay competitions
  • The Betty Haigh Shakespeare Prize
  • Poetry Now, Poetry Live, Poetry by Heart, Foyle Young Poet of the Year, the National Poetry Competition

We also encourage pupils to submit their writing to the School’s student newspaper and to compile their own anthologies and blogs.


English literature at university

For those students opting to apply to study English at university we offer extra guidance and tuition, including:

  • Guidance and advice about university and college choice
  • Construction of holiday reading lists (specific to individual students) which complement A level study and provide greater depth/breadth of study
  • Choosing two topics (and titles) for the essays to be submitted – with associated reading – for which the first draft should be produced during the summer holiday of the Lower Sixth
  • Co-ordinated, varied and regular sessions on a number of major literary topics (such as tragedy, renaissance drama, the modernist novel and absurdist drama) to expand students’ knowledge
  • Coaching on the essay topics of the candidates and supervision of production of the essays in stages
  • Coaching, with practice, on response to unseen readings, in preparation for exam and interview tasks
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