A Level English Literature Course

Ashbourne’s A level English Literature teachers and students show genuine love and enthusiasm for the subject helping to make it one of our top performing courses.

A level English Literature at Ashbourne

Studying English 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.

The English department at Ashbourne gave me a completely new perspective on literature and created safe spaces for ideas to be presented, explored and challenged, allowing for exciting literary discussions to take place. The teachers offered a broader and extra-curricular approach to Literature which greatly prepared me for my academic studies at university.


Ashbourne’s A level English Literature students cover a broad range of topics making for an extremely lively and engaging classroom environment and which have contributed towards our students sweeping up CIFE academic awards for Humanities. Students are encouraged to take part in an ongoing wider reading project, attend poetry readings and get involved in Ashbourne’s annual Revue to show their artistic talents.

Ashbourne’s superb location in the heart of London also 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.

Ashbourne English Literature competition

Ashbourne 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.

I am very indebted to not only my subject teachers but Ashbourne as a whole. It’s not just trying to get an A*, it helps you find a passion for English and getting strong grades without losing the love for the subject.

Andrew, A* English, Drama A* and History A, studying English Literature at Cambridge University

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.

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.

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 Moorley

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.


Year 12
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
Drama: Measure for Measure: The Oxford Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
Coursework: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
Poetry: Selected Poems by John Keats

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