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Year 9

By the end of their first year students at Ampleforth will have explored at least one Shakespeare play in detail as well as one or two novels, collections of stories and a wide variety of poetry, both traditional and modern. They will have developed their ability to write in a variety of forms: imaginative stories, more formal essays on their texts, their own poetry as well polishing their technical writing skills.

Drama is an integral part of our course during the year; all students participate in drama workshops. Using Shakespeare's plays as a focus they cover a range of theatrical skills: acting, directing and production including staging and lighting.

Examples of texts read in the first year:
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • Julius Caesar
  • Henry IV Part I
  • Frankenstein
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • To Kill A Mocking Bird
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Brighton Rock
  • Old English Poetry
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Wordsworth
  • Shelley
  • Ted Hughes
  • Les Murray
  • Derek Walcott

Year 10

The second year builds on the foundations established in the first year: developing their literary reading skills with more challenging texts, exploring a wider range of writing and preparing for the GCSE and Ampleforth Literature Certificate.

Examples of texts read in the second year:

Henry V, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night’s Dream, She, The Heart of Darkness, The Great Gatsby, Scoop, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, A Month in the Country, Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, The Crucible. 

Year 11

In their third year students prepare for their GCSE in English and for the Ampleforth Certificate of English Literature.

The GCSE is the MEG 1500 syllabus and all our candidates are entered for the Higher Tier.

We have developed The Ampleforth Certificate of English Literature as an alternative to the GCSE English Literature, giving our students a wider and richer experience of literature. The syllabus restores Chaucer and many other traditional writers, as well as introducing more unusual writers from the past and present. The syllabus is assessed by coursework (75%) written on the poetry, Shakespeare and Chaucer texts and a final exam (25%) on the prose text and unseen literary criticism.

Examples of texts studied:

The tales of The Nun’s Priest, The Wife of Bath, The Miller, and The Pardoner; Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, Midsummer Night’s Dream; poetry by Pope, Blake, Coleridge, Keats, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Norman Nicholson; Gulliver’s Travels, Joseph Andrews, Kipling’s Indian Stories, Dubliners, Goodbye to Berlin; Cyrano de Bergerac, The Glass Menagerie, The Real Inspector Hound. 

The Sixth Form


The new AS/A level in English Literature will build on students’ reading up to the Sixth Form and take them on to explore some of the greatest writing of the last millennium and this! To read, with intelligence and discrimination, in dialogue with the past, and with cultures different (and often wiser) than our own, is a skill that needs to be learnt like any other. The best literature invites the reader to reflect on all facets of experience and to enjoy the richness and variety of language itself; and these are things that continue to enrich us throughout life. In contact with the best that has been written, we learn to extend our own powers of thought and expression, our understanding of the world, and what it means to be human.

A full A level, or the one-year AS course, in English Literature, makes a successful combination with more or less any other set of subjects. It can complement a study of the Classics or History, for example, or provide balance to a course based predominantly on Mathematics, the sciences or the social sciences.

Every year, some of our A level candidates go on to specialise in English Literature at university, a handful at Oxford or Cambridge. English is not a “vocational” study, but a good degree can lead on to a career in journalism or the law, business or commerce, public relations, advertising, and so on. Whatever your ambitions, the communication skills you will acquire through an English AS or A level will stand you in good stead for the future.

Finally, a commitment to reading, and a willingness to exercise the mind and imagination, are the most important entrance requirement for a successful A level literature student!

The new specifications:

We shall be following the OCR specifications, which in our opinion combine the best of the more traditional approaches to A level Literature with the new requirements.

The AS level (one year) consists of:
  • Drama: Shakespeare: this involves the detailed study of one of Shakespeare's plays, and in the exam candidates write an essay on the play as a whole and a commentary on a selected passage from it. The new specifications place more emphasis than before on reading Shakespeare in his historical and cultural context, as well as with some awareness of the ways he has been understood in different ages.
  • Poetry and Prose - candidates study a poet (for example John Donne, or Tennyson, Robert Frost or Ted Hughes) and a prose text (a novel from one of the last three centuries) from a wide list and write about them in the exam. This is an “open text” paper, and the questions require critical appreciation of selected passages.
  • Complementary Study: this is coursework: two essays, amounting to 1500-2000 words, on a single text. To encourage wide and exploratory reading, we hope that candidates will work on texts of their own choosing, under the teacher's guidance.

Candidates who intend to take the full English Literature A level go on in their second year to the A2 Level, which comprises another three units:

Poetry and Drama - one of the great poets from the 14th to the 19th century is studied in depth (perhaps Chaucer or Milton, Coleridge or Emily Dickinson), with a play which could be by Shakespeare or one of his contemporaries, or a later playwright such as Sheridan. This unit looks in more detail at the importance of genre and language in the works in question, as well as testing the candidate's own evaluation in the light of other critical opinions.

Prose post-1914 “ this is a coursework paper: candidates study and write about a prose text written any time between 1914 and last week, though obviously the text must be of sufficient substance for study at this level! We have a free choice of texts, and the authors chosen will be the best that recent times have to offer, from Joyce and Scott Fitzgerald to Angela Carter and beyond.

Comparative and Contextual Study “this is the culmination of the course and gives candidates the opportunity to demonstrate all the critical reading skills and literary understanding they have acquired during the two years. A “contextual area” is chosen from a range that includes topics such as Satire, The Victorian Novel, The Great War in British Literature, 20th Century American Literature, etc. In the exam, candidates respond to unseen writing from within their topic area, and write an essay on at least two texts relevant to the chosen area. One of the texts is prescribed but the others are a free choice.

The new AS/A level offers exciting scope for following up a wide range of reading and literary study, exploring some great books in their contexts, making one's own evaluation of them, and learning something about how other readers have responded to them before us.

Our A level sets are of mixed ability, of around 10-12 students, and each set is shared by two teachers. The teaching is seminar style with much discussion and debate, and essays exploring different aspects of the texts are written once a week. The course is open to, and enjoyed by students of all levels of ability: the subject is ideally suited for stretching the most able, while having plenty that the less able can achieve. For the past few years well over half our candidates have achieved A or B grades.