A level English Literature

The English department at Ashbourne is a colourful and thriving community enjoying small group sizes, inspirational staff and students who have a real and genuine enthusiasm for the subject. All of this makes for an extremely positive classroom environment coupled with lively and penetrating discussion. The course includes a wide variety of ancient and modern Literature and is split into the study of drama, poetry and prose. The teachers in the English department are highly passionate about their subject and pride themselves on their ability to transmit their passion, enthusiasm and interest to the students. In addition to studying the syllabus, students will be involved in an ongoing wider reading project, attend poetry readings and will experience the richness and variety of London’s many theatrical venues.

Why study English Literature?

This A Level is an ideal choice for anyone who loves reading and books. Literature and is interested in the big questions affecting human existence. It is also a highly respected A Level that can be instrumental in helping students gain university places in a variety of subjects. Students will also gain a great deal of academic prowess through a subject that promotes the development of transferable skills. English students are taught to think analytically, consider different interpretations and listen and respond to one another sensitively in preparation for the seminar style environment they are likely to find at university. One of the most important skills they learn is how to write coherently and critically. This is an essential skill that will aid them in their other subjects and is invaluable in higher education and the world of employment.

Which syllabus do we follow?

We follow the Edexcel specification for English Literature.

How many units/components are there>

English Literature is in the process of becoming linear. The new linear content will be taught in AS level, while the modular content will be taught at A2 for the year to come before being replaced by the new linear content.

The new AS content is divided into Component 1 and Component 2, while A2 is divided into Unit 3 and Unit 4.

What is each unit/component about?


Component 1Component 2
Poetry and Drama
The poems studied are selected from Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry 2002–2011.
The set play is “A Streetcare Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams
The AS Prose Component taught at Ashbourne revolves around the theme “Colonisation and its Aftermath”.
The set texts are Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and A Passage to India by E M Forster.


Unit 1Unit 2Unit 3Unit 4

AS unit 1 is called ‘Explorations in Prose and Poetry’.
 Section A is a choice of either unseen poetry or unseen prose; this is aimed to challenge students to make relevant technical analyses of a piece they will not have seen before.

Section B involves answering questions on the prescribed anthology of poetry. In this case, poems on the theme of “land’ will be taken from the The Oxford Anthology of English Poetry. These poems span nearly two centuries and cover poets as diverse as William Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and Philip Larkin. The strength of the anthology is that it provides a sound overview of the tradition of writing about land in English poetry.

Section C involves answering questions on two prescribed novels. The core literary heritage novel will be Brighton Rock by Graham Greene and the supplementary novel will be A Clock Work Orange by Anthony Burgess. Students will be asked to pick out themes from the two texts and compare and contrast the novels in terms of key themes.

AS unit 2 is called ‘Explorations in Drama’. This is a coursework unit and it requires students to answer a set question of approximately 2000 words on two pieces of Renaissance Drama. The plays currently studied at Ashbourne are Shakepeare’s The Tempest and Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Students are expected to write fluently and clearly, making structured and sophisticated arguments in their analysis of the two plays. They will be guided by the teachers to make their own critical observations, but will also be afforded plenty of room to establish their own ideas and engage in independent research. Students are also required to write a creative critical response of about 500 words in which they will explore the two plays in a fresh and innovative way in order to further deepen their analytical understanding of the texts.

A2 unit 3 is called ‘Interpretations of Prose and Poetry’. In this unit students will be encouraged to build on the skills they have developed in AS. They will engage with recently published texts as well as other texts from different periods. In particular, they must respond critically to at least one text published after 1990. They are expected to comment on unseen prose or poetry and their response will be informed by the reading skills they have developed through their course as a whole. They will compare and contrast texts from different genres. Their independent responses will be informed by an appreciation of the contexts in which texts are written and read and by the interpretations of other readers over time.

The set texts are Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson and Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s clothes by Billy Collins. These three texts in conjunction provide expansive material for comparison and are themed around the evolution of selfhood and identity

A2 unit 4 is called ‘Reflections in Literary Studies’. This unit allows teachers to be flexible in assigning a coursework title unrestrained by date requirements or genre. Students will be given the breadth and freedom to design their own question, undertake their own research and produce a unique piece of writing.

A2 unit 4 is called ‘Reflections in Literary Studies’. This unit allows teachers to be flexible in assigning a coursework title unrestrained by date requirements or genre. Students will be given the breadth and freedom to design their own question, undertake their own research and produce a unique piece of writing. All students will be taught William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and will then be encouraged to develop their own writing project. This unit is an excellent introduction to the kind of work that will be expected of students at university and fosters creativity and independent learning.

How is each unit examined?

Unit 1Unit 2Unit 3Unit 4

Students sit a two hour, fifteen minute examination. There will be questions on each of the three main areas covered.

This is a coursework unit. Students will be expected to produce a response of 2000 words.

Students will sit a 2 hour 45 minute examination.

Students will produce a coursework folder, maximum words 2500-3000

When do the exams take place?

The unit 1 examination can be taken in January or June. Coursework must be submitted by May. Students will have opportunities to resit AS units in January of their A2 year. Unit 3 will be sat in June of the A2 year and coursework submitted before Easter of the A2 year.

Who teaches the course?

Arabella Bridge

(BA Hons, Open, PGCE, Sussex.)

Arabella has led a successful English Department at Ashbourne for nearly ten years. The department started with a handful of students and is now one of the largest in the College. Arabella took a BA in English Literature before pursuing postgraduate studies at NYU. She gained a PGCE from the University of Sussex and has over twenty years experience of teaching. Arabella, as one might expect from an English teacher, is a keen theatergoer and an avid reader.

James Wykes

(MA Modern Literatures in English, Birkbeck; BA Hons English Literature, University of Wales; PGCE in English, King’s College London.)

After working in two well-known London colleges, James joined us in 2007. In his first year he made an outstanding contribution as Head of GCSE and has exceeded that performance in his role as Assistant Director of Studies. He is passionate about learning and plays a key role in the integration of English and Drama. Together with Breanne Grantham, he has inspired students to produce our first college newspaper, The Ashbourner, and is now one of the driving forces behind our Annual Christmas Revue.

Beyond A Level for English Literature Students

English Literature is a highly regarded A Level that can take students onto almost any course of study. It is an essential choice for students considering an English degree, but would be a good option for students considering Humanities subjects, languages or Law. It could lead onto many careers the most obvious of which are Law, Journalism, Business Management and Publishing.

Any other information

Students studying English Literature need to have a very high standard of written and spoken English and should love reading talking and thinking about how we express our humanity through language.


AS LevelA2 Level

Title – The Merchant of Venice
Author – William Shakespeare
Web link – The Merchant of Venice

Title – The Jew of Malta
Author – Christopher Marlowe
Web link – Christopher Marlowe

Title – Jane Eyre
Author – Charlotte Brontë
Web link – Jane Eyre

Title – The Magic Toyshop
Author – Angela Carter
Web link – The Magic Toyshop

Title – The Oxford Anthology of English Poetry Volume II.
Web link – The Oxford Anthology of English Poetry Volume II

Title – Rapture
Author – Carol Ann Duffy
Web link – Rapture

Title – The Great Gatsby
Author – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Web link – The Great Gatsby

Title – Metaphysical Poetry (an anthology published by Penguin)
Web link – Metaphysical Poetry

Title – King Lear
Author – William Shakespeare
Web link – King Lear