The Perse School


A historical understanding informs our questions, judgements and decisions about contemporary events and the world in which we live

History contributes enormously to students’ understanding of the world and its interdependence, achievements and aspirations.

By engaging with history, students understand and appreciate not only the characteristic features and diversity of British society, but of a range of societies, political structures, cultures and beliefs that influenced the actions of people in the past.

A historical understanding is imperative to inform our questions, judgements and decisions about contemporary events and the world in which we live.

In the History Department at The Perse we aim to cultivate students’ ability to construct an argument, both orally and on paper, and to write and think analytically.

Students will develop their research, writing, debating and presenting skills; they will work independently and in groups, and all students are encouraged to participate actively in lessons. Above all, we teach students to think discerningly and critically.

We place particular importance on the development of independent thought and analytical skills, as well as the qualities of perception and judgement – skills useful not just in sixth form but in higher education and beyond.

With such skills it is no wonder that professions such as law, business, the Civil Service and the media recruit heavily from those who have studied history at A level and university.

A level historians at The Perse will learn to:

  • Write with clarity and precision
  • Develop their research and reading skills
  • Argue their case both on paper and orally
  • Form their own opinion and judgement based on the available evidence: for much of the history studied there are no “right” answers: each student’s view can be as worthwhile as those of a professional historian if they are well-argued
  • Assess the reliability and utility of documentary evidence
  • Develop a sceptical approach to ‘obvious’ lines of argument

History is one of the most popular A level subjects at The Perse. The department follows the OCR A H505 2015 Specification and students will study three units/topics and write a 4,000 word piece of coursework.

The department covers two topics for each unit which provides pupils with the opportunity to learn from teachers in their chosen topic areas and to benefit from their expertise. All of the topics in each unit follow the same format and structure and the way in which they are assessed is identical.

Learning journey - Lower Sixth

Unit Group 1: British Period Study, either England 1445-1509 or the Stuarts 1603-1660.

Assessment 50 marks, 1hr 30min exam, 25% of total A level.

Unit Group 2: Non-British Period Study, either the German Reformation or Liberal and Fascist Italy 1896-1943.

Assessment 30 marks, 1hr exam, 15% of total A level.

Learning journey - Upper Sixth

Unit Group 3: Thematic study and Historical Interpretations, either Popular Culture and Witchcraze or Civil Rights in the USA.

Assessment 80 marks, 2hr 30min exam, 40% total A level.

Topic-Based Essay Coursework: Non-exam assessment, 4,000-word essay/coursework, 40 marks, 20% total A level.


Providing stretch

We offer trips for sixth formers to Paris, Berlin and Poland to broaden their outlook and knowledge. On the Paris Tour, for example, we sample French culture and learn about key events in French history such as French Absolutism, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Era, the Paris Commune, the Belle Epoque and the Occupation of Paris during the Second World War.

We also run a joint trip with the Politics and Economics departments to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. Sixth formers tour Congress and visit the US Supreme Court for a fascinating insight into policy- and law-making, and enjoy a cultural experience as diverse as a Broadway show and a Philly cheese steak. Read the report of a recent trip on our news pages.

Students listen to leading historians at meetings of the Cambridge branch of the Historical Association, the Cambridge History Forum and in public lectures at Cambridge University. We encourage them to go to exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the British Museum. We regularly organise day trips to sites, for example a trip for Lower Sixth Early Modernists to Lavenham in Suffolk, and lecture days in Cambridge and London.

We encourage students to deepen their grasp and enjoyment of history with independent study. There is a dedicated history library with more than a thousand books and magazines and we encourage students to read widely around the topic. Some suggested texts are Cameron’s The European Reformation, Fairclough’s African Americans and Weir’s Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses.

We regularly post updates on our Schoology (social network) sites about upcoming events such as exhibitions, interesting historical sites, television programmes, podcasts and useful websites.

Students are encouraged to enter national essay competitions. In recent years Perse historians’ essays have been highly commended in the Robson History Prize, commended in the Peterhouse Vellacott History Essay Prize, have reached the national finals of the Historical Association’s Great Debate, and won the prestigious Julia Wood Essay Prize.

Beyond the classroom

We offer numerous opportunities to go beyond the classroom – opportunities that greatly enrich students’ enjoyment of the subject.

The Senior History Society has invited a number of eminent historians to the school to give talks in recent years, such as Professor David Reynolds, Professor Sir Richard Evans Kt and Dr Suzannah Lipscomb. We are committed to cultivating cross-curricular links and work closely with other departments to offer joint societies with the Classics Department, as well as working with other departments to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

History at university

In the Michaelmas term, the History UCAS group meets weekly to provide guidance to Upper Sixth historians preparing their personal statements, submitted work and admission test preparation for those applying to Oxford. We introduce students to different approaches to historical research and provide an insight into what a history degree will involve and potentially offer. A similar group is run for Lower Sixth historians in the Lent and Summer terms in preparation for UCAS applications the following academic year. We also provide extensive reading lists.

Top universities regard history as a serious academic A level. Every year a significant number of Perse students choose to read history for their degree. Many have gone to Oxbridge and to other universities with a high reputation for the subject. Since 2013, 27 Perse historians have been successful in applying to study history at either Oxford or Cambridge University (five in 2017-18). In the same period, more than 70 Perse students have chosen to study history at university.

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