The Perse School


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

Our aim

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.

We cultivate students’ ability to construct an argument, both orally and on paper, and to write and think analytically. Students develop their research, writing, debating and presenting skills; they work independently and in groups, and all students are actively encouraged to participate in class discussion. Above all we teach them to think discriminatingly and critically. We place particular importance on the development of independent thought and analytical skills, and the qualities of perception and judgement, while fostering intellectual independence – skills useful not just in sixth form but in higher education and at work.

In particular, 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 in class discussion
  • 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 views can be as worthwhile as those of a professional historian if they are well-argued
  • Assess the reliability and utility of documentary evidence characters, policies, ambitions, prejudices and personal crises
  • Develop a sceptical approach to ‘obvious’ lines of argument

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.

History is one of our most popular subjects at A level.  We offer a choice of two courses, giving students the opportunity to develop an existing interest in a topic or choose a historical period that is new to them but about which they are curious.

Option one: Sovereignty, superstition and schism

Option two: Reform, rights and revolution

Learning journey - Sovereignty, superstition and schism

All students complete a British period study and a non-British period study in the Lower Sixth.

Also in the Lower Sixth, those who select the ‘Sovereignty, superstition and schism’ course cover England 1445-1509: Lancastrians, Yorkists and Henry VII, and the German Reformation and the rule of Charles V: 1500-1559. In the Upper Sixth we study Popular Culture and the Witchcraze of the 16th and 17th Centuries and carry out coursework on the Crusades.

Learning journey - Reform, rights and revolution

All students complete a British period study and a non-British period study in the Lower Sixth.

Also in the Lower Sixth, we study the Early Stuarts and the Origins of the Civil War 1603-1660; and Russia 1894-1941. In the Upper Sixth we study Civil Rights in the USA 1865-1992 and carry out coursework on the Chinese Communist Revolution.

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. In 2016 five Perse students (eight in 2014) received offers to study history at either Oxford or Cambridge, and all were successful in meeting their offer.

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