English and drama are at the heart of the School’s curriculum. The Department inherits the celebrated Perse ‘Play Way’ tradition of teaching English through performance, and to this day English and drama go hand-in-hand at The Perse. We marry this heritage with exciting contemporary teaching to inspire students with the cultural riches of language, literature and the theatre.
We strive to ensure that students flourish in English, enabling them to participate fully in contemporary social and cultural life with its inherent global dimension, and inspiring many to degree level and beyond in the subject.
Through their study of English, students become effective and engaging communicators and confident public speakers; develop a love of literature in all its forms; become critical readers; synthesise and prioritise information; think and write with independence, initiative and originality; attain proficiency in spelling, punctuation, grammar – and in other aspects of the quality of written communication; and become familiar with techniques associated with ICT, media and the moving image.
Do pupils get taught in their form groups?
Yes, pupils are taught in their form groups throughout Years 7-11.
What GCSEs do pupils take in English?
Pupils currently take AQA GCSE English literature and OCR GCSE English language. All pupils take both GCSEs at the end of Year 11.
How do drama and English work together?
Drama and English work together throughout The Perse. All Year 7 classes have a standalone drama lesson each fortnight, and a great deal of our English work is done through the medium of drama and performance.
What access do pupils have to the library?
All Year 7 and 8 classes have a timetabled library lesson each fortnight where the class visit the library, read privately, engage with the librarians and explore new texts. Other year groups will visit the library regularly and we encourage all pupils to have a book on the go.
What should my child be reading?
The answer is anything! It is important that all children are reading as much as they can, but the medium and source of that material can be varied and wide-ranging. It is most important that they are enjoying what they read. For example, it could be:
- Graphic novels/comic books
We help pupils stretch and widen their reading, but there is nothing wrong with pupils revisiting much loved books again and again. It is also important that it is age appropriate, which varies pupil by pupil – just as we might expect Year 9 pupils to have moved beyond Michael Morpurgo, we wouldn’t encourage Year 7 pupils to be reading Jane Austen!
How important is hand writing?
Very important! We work with pupils to maintain a high standard of handwriting, as this is the format in which they will sit their exams. The simple truth is that if someone can’t read the writing, they can’t mark it or work on the content.
What does the department offer within the curriculum?
All students in Year 7 follow a dedicated drama curriculum and drama also features as part of the Lower School English curriculum. There is a popular Year 9 optional course. There is a specialist optional drama course for students in Year 10 (and into Year 11). There is also a separate drama option in Year 10 focusing on RADA performance certificates. A new drama course has just been added to the Lower Sixth curriculum. Dramatic activities feature as part of English lessons across the school.
What does the department offer beyond the curriculum?
We stage up to 10 full-scale productions each year (arranged on both a year group and ‘horizontal’ basis) and run a series of clubs, societies and activities (including two theatre companies and a technical theatre group). There are also play writing and reading groups – and student magazines. Students produce staged versions of their own plays.
Does the department have any links with external drama organisations?
Yes – with the National Youth Theatre, National Youth Music Theatre, the BBC, the National Theatre and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (as well as all the major theatre spaces in Cambridge).
What sort of performing spaces are available?
We have a superb full-scale venue in the Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre (as well as a smaller Gallery Studio) and we also use The Loft, the Lecture Theatre, the Main Hall, our large studio classroom, the external amphitheatre and other outdoor spaces.
Is drama continuing during the current health crisis?
Certainly. All curricular courses are running at full capacity (with necessary modifications) and the full programme of extra-curricular performances, clubs and societies is in place. External trips are currently being replaced by a special live/recorded film performance package which we are investing in. We are also innovating by bringing in web-based, filmed and radio projects.
Are there any trips organised?
We usually organise a large number of theatre and cultural trips each year as part of the curriculum and for general interest (in Cambridge, London, Dublin or New York). We are taking advantage of replacements available in other formats until we are able to run these trips again.
Does the department include specialist drama staff?
Yes. All members of the English and drama department are involved in the delivery of drama to some extent. There are six specialist drama teachers and others are involved in directing productions. We have a staff Theatre Director in Residence as well as a Director of English & Drama and support/technical staff.
Why does the school not offer examined drama?
We offer courses to meet the needs of our particular student body. These are carefully constructed, specialist and ambitious. The content and structure of public exam specifications do not always meet our requirements. Our rigorously constructed and assessed internal qualifications are highlighted on university application forms and similar documents. We offer externally assessed RADA Shakespeare qualifications in Years 10 and 11 and the Lower Sixth.
How do English and drama work together?
We are a unique faculty in which both subjects work together to develop the best aspects of a Perse tradition which encourages collaboration and synergy between our two related subjects, offering students an enjoyable cultural immersion in the riches of language, literature, speech and performance skills.
Do students go on to pursue careers in the performing arts?
Yes. Careers in the theatre, film, and other aspects of the arts have been a popular and successful route for Perse students, with a record of national (and international) success. This is achieved by following either the ‘academic’ or ‘vocational’ routes beyond the Sixth Form. Specialist advice is available for this. We run a regular forum (Creative Mentors) which aims to inspire current students by bringing in industry professionals for presentations and events.
- Learning journey - Years 7-9
At this stage of their studies, the focus is on both literature and literacy. Students develop their skills through classroom study, theatre trips, debates and author visits. We work closely with our librarians to develop both a love of independent reading and transferable research skills.
Pupils study a range of set texts spanning prose, poetry and plays and exploring concepts such as identity, social structures and global perspectives. Set texts form the core of the work covered in the classroom; there are also additional texts for use at the teacher’s discretion. Prose might include Roald Dahl, John Boyne, Susan Hill, Chinua Achebe or Mark Haddon; poetry might involve Tennyson, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy or Seamus Heaney; and drama could cover Shakespeare, Chaucer, Mary Shelley or Oscar Wilde. Reading lists exist to encourage further independent reading.
The drama curriculum includes theatre trips to the Globe, West End, RSC and regional theatres.
- Learning journey - GCSE and RADA Certificate
In Years 10 and 11, students build on the work started in Years 7 to 9, and commence the GCSE courses in English language and English literature.
The courses cover a wide range of skills including creative and persuasive writing, close analysis of texts and an appreciation of literary genres.
Students can also elect to take the RADA Shakespeare Certificate. This one year, stand-alone drama course complements the wide range of drama activities available here. The course represents an excellent opportunity to develop important skills whatever students’ broader ambitions: public speaking; developing confidence; spoken diction and clarity; persuasive skills; and performance. Students cover acting and technical aspects of theatre (including lighting, sound and effects), and receive an introduction to other skills of the theatre (such as production, direction, stage management, costume and make-up, and masks).
- Providing stretch
There is always something going on in our Department. We mark national events such as Book Week, World Book Day, National Poetry Day, National Schools’ Film Week and Bookbuzz.
Students wishing to take their learning further can carry out one of the optional investigations set each term, from contributing to in-house publications to learning a poem for the Poetry by Heart competition or creating a presentation on an aspect of linguistics.
We run an exciting programme of trips to the theatre – in Cambridge, the West End and elsewhere in London, Stratford-upon-Avon and beyond – and a thriving range of extra-curricular activities.
- Beyond the classroom
There is a whole host of different activities to get involved in, from debating and public speaking events, trips to the theatre, cultural events and more.
We run a mix of lunchtime and after-school clubs that cover creative writing, film making, and debating and discussion, as well as book clubs and public speaking clubs.
Our in-house writing and public speaking competitions include the Year 7 Arts Festival, poetry and prose competitions, a series of public speaking competitions 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 Rotary ‘Young Writer’ competition; the Cambridge Union Society; and the Oxford Union. Recently, Year 9 students reached the national finals of the Youth Speaks competition, the English Speaking Union’s Performing Shakespeare competition and the Rotary Young Writer competition (intermediate section).
Other 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
- The National Short Story Competition
- The Mastermind Book Challenge, and
- The Carnegie medal shadowing scheme
Recently, pupils taking the Year 9 drama option entered the Young Writers’ One Page Play competition, run by Menagerie Theatre. Four of their plays were performed by professional actors at The Junction, and one student’s submission, Graham, won the competition.
We also encourage pupils to submit their writing to the School’s student newspaper and to compile their own anthologies and blogs.
Each year the Perse Players put on a production, with opportunities for all ages in every aspect of staging a performance. Recent years have seen a mix of classics and brave new dramas , including Romeo and Juliet, the musical Our House and, most recently, Lord of the Flies.
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 pieces including works by Shakespeare; musicals like Anything Goes; One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest; a new adaptation of Julius Caesar; an original promenade production of Wanderland; a touching traverse-stage immersive piece entitled Forgotten Voices; and an original piece of writing, Telling Tales.
We have a range of performance and rehearsal spaces, the centrepiece being the Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre, a 370-plus seat fully-equipped theatre. 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.
For more detail about drama opportunities beyond the classroom, including our range of drama and dance clubs, please visit our extra-curricular pages.