A level English Literature course

Ashbourne’s vibrant English faculty is led by inspirational staff and bursting with students full of genuine enthusiasm for the subject. Year after year our A level English Literature students achieve outstanding results making it one of our top performing A level subjects. The broad range of topics covered in the literature make for an extremely lively and engaging classroom environment and have contributed towards our students sweeping up CIFE academic awards for Humanities.

Ashbourne A level English Literature students explore drama, poetry and prose and are encouraged to take part in an ongoing wider reading project, attend poetry readings and get involved in Ashbourne’s annual Revue showcasing students’ artistic talents.

Ashbourne also hosts an annual English Literature Essay Competition, open to all 14-17 year olds in the UK, including current Ashbourne students. Entrants are invited to write and submit an essay on their chosen text based around a given question. Those shortlisted are then asked to discuss their entries with the judges. The winner and runners up receive cash prizes and the opportunity to interview for a scholarship place at the college. Find out more about the Ashbourne English Literature Essay Competition, including this year’s essay question, deadlines and scholarship information.

Ashbourne’s superb location in the heart of London makes it ideal for students who wish to enjoy the excellent variety of shows, events and exhibitions on offer as well as using the outstanding libraries and bookshops close by.

Why study A level English Literature?

For voracious readers, word lovers, poets and theatre buffs English Literature is the perfect choice.

Studying literature feeds the imagination. It allows you to travel back in time, share the experiences of others, take on new perspectives, explore ideas, beliefs and values, challenge or discover your own and learn the literary skills to express yourself in original and creative ways through dialogue, argument, prose and poetry.

The analytical, interpretative and discursive skills you develop by studying literature will also prove excellent preparation for university. A level English Literature is a highly regarded qualification by universities.

Which syllabus do we follow?

Ashbourne follows the Edexcel specification for A level English Literature.

What is covered in the course?

The A level course comprises three main components: drama, prose and poetry; plus coursework.

A level English Literature 

Poems of the Decade (An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry 2002–2011) offers students an eclectic mix of contemporary prize-winning poetry to pore over by familiars such as Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney and Andrew Motion and less conventional poets as Tim Turnbull, Daljit Nagra, George Szirtes and Patience Agbabi.

Students will examine poetic form, content and meaning, analysing links and connections between the poems and exploring a variety of themes from violence and danger to fear and love.

Selected Poems, John Keats, includes a wide range Keats’ work including some of his more playful but less celebrated poems.

“Over the course of his short life, John Keats (1795-1821) honed a raw talent into a brilliant poetic maturity. By the end of his brief career, he had written poems of such beauty, imagination and generosity of spirit, that he had – unwittingly – fulfilled his wish that he should ‘be among the English poets after my death’.”

A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
When fading southern belle Blanche DuBois stays with her sister Stella in a boisterous corner of New Orleans her delusions of grandeur bring her into conflict with Stella’s violent husband Stanley Kowalski. Her fragile sense of identity begins to crumble threatening to destroy her sanity and her one chance of happiness.

Tennessee Williams was born in Mississippi in 1911. He is a highly celebrated, Pultizer Prize winning playwright.

Measure for Measure, Shakespeare
Claudio falls victim to Vienna’s harsh new vice laws and is sentenced to death for getting his fiancee Julietta pregnant. A web of deceit, revenge and moral duplicity begin to grow when his virtuous sister attempts to get him pardoned.

Students explore form and the use of literary and dramatic devices in shaping meanings. They will also analyse the significance and influence of contextual factors (social, cultural, political and historical) and engage with different interpretations of the plays.

Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
Marlow recounts his physical and psychological journey, in the heart of the African continent, in search of the infamous and unscrupulous ivory trader Kurtz. His quest leads him to radically question not only his own nature and values but also those of western civilisation.

Conrad’s classic novel explores the limits of human experience and nightmarish realities of imperialism. Heart of Darkness was the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning film Apocalypse Now.

A Passage to India E.M. Forster
Determined to escape the insular ‘Anglo-Indian’ enclave of Chandrapore Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs Moore head for the ‘real India’ guided by the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz. But a mysterious incident soon finds the respected doctor at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects.

E.M. Forster (1879-1970) was an English novelist who explored class difference and cultural conflict.

Students explore the theme ‘colonisation and its aftermath’ in reference to the two texts and examine how the writers use and adapt language, create form and structure as well as investigating the idea and features of the genre.

The Ghost Road is the final book in Pat Barker’s Booker prize-winning WW1 trilogy. 

The end of the war is near yet millions of beleaguered soldiers are forced to battle on in the French trenches. In England the renowned psychologist William Rivers rehabilitates shell shocked veterans only so they can return to the front line. Billy Prior, bi-sexual and working class officer, and poet soldier Wilfred Owen are among those sent back to fight to the bitter end a war they no longer believe in. Rivers meanwhile is afflicted by memories of the bloodthirsty savagery of a South Pacific tribe he had once studied, bringing into sharp focus the pitiless slaughter of the battlefield to which he is returning soldiers.

The Ghost Road explores many themes including the nature of sanity, class politics, sexuality and man’s inhumanity to man.

The coursework, based on the text above, is internally assessed and externally moderated.

Who teaches the course?

Elle Ryan

BA Theology and History with English Literature, Philosophy and Media (Australian Catholic University)

Elle draws on a broad range of fields including history, theology, philosophy and media to enrich and help contextualise English language and literature for her students. She has an excellent rapport with her students who she encourages to develop their own strategies and structures for effective learning making them stakeholders in their own success.

Elle has been teaching for nearly ten years first in Australia and then the UK. She teaches English Literature and IELTS at the college.

Lauren Vanderhurst

MA English: Issues in Modern Culture (University College London); BA Hons English Literature (University of California, Santa Barbara);
PGCE (Institute of Education, UCL)

Lauren’s love and enthusiasm for English inspires her students to find their own passion and embrace all that the subject has to offer. She has played a full and active role in the college’s academic and cultural life since joining in 2014.

James Wykes

Assistant Director of Studies and Head of Faculties
MA Modern Literatures in English (Birkbeck); BA Hons English Literature (University of Wales); PGCE in English (King’s College London)

James leads Ashbourne’s flourishing English Department and has been instrumental in establishing both English and Drama as vital parts of the college’s curriculum. He has helped set up and is involved in a variety of very successful enrichment projects that encourage students to take the lead role in their learning and explore differing perspectives to interpret the world around them, including the student-run college newspaper, a series of critical theory lectures and the very popular Ashbourne Annual Revue showcasing students’ artistic talents.


A level - 2 years (Sept 2019 start)A level - 2 years (Sept 2020 start)A level - 1 year (Sept 2020 start)

Year 12 (2019-2020)

Drama: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Drama: Measure for Measure: The Oxford Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
Poetry: Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry, published by Forward Arts Foundation.
Coursework: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

Year 13 (2020-2021)

Poetry: Selected Poems by John Keats
Prose: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Prose: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

Year 12 (2020-2021)

Drama: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Poetry: Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry, published by Forward Arts Foundation.
Prose: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Prose: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

Year 13 (2021-2022)

Drama: Measure for Measure: The Oxford Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
Coursework: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
Poetry: Selected Poems by John Keats

Year 13 (2020-2021)

Drama: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Drama: Measure for Measure: The Oxford Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
Poetry: Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry, published by Forward Arts Foundation.
Poetry: Selected Poems by John Keats
Prose: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Prose: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
Coursework: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

Beyond A level English Literature

With your excellent communication skills, wily use of language and creative flair you could write a block buster novel, set up your own publishing house or online media platform, produce scripts for film, theatre and TV, perform gritty, hard-hitting poetry, go undercover in the world of etymology, teach speech, act on the fringe or hit broadway, create lyrics for pop stars, start a revolution, get on your soapbox, set up global campaigns and much more. Add business acumen and political nous and your career pathways could open even further.

English Literature is a highly regarded A level that can take students onto almost any course of study. It is an obvious choice for English degree courses but is also an excellent option for those considering arts and humanities subjects, languages, business and law.

Why Choose Ashbourne College?
Choosing to study at Ashbourne was one of my best decisions because I was so well cared for both academically and personally. This was especially true in preparing for my interview at Cambridge, for which I received a lot of help from my Personal Tutor
ThongMedicine at St George's Hospital Medical School (University of London)
Our daughter has surely improved her knowledge in the chosen subjects but also her ability in dealing with her everyday life
Since starting work at Ashbourne in September, I was impressed by the amazing sense of community. The students’ combat differences in culture, age and circumstance to form fantastic relationships, and are strongly aided in the support and friendship from teaching and admin staff. Students are always given the attention they deserve, and these factors create a unique atmosphere for successful learning.
Hannah MartinFormer College Administrator and Welfare Officer