English is at the heart of our culture and literacy skills are crucial to students’ learning for all subjects.

All students study English and the end point, for those who do not go on to study in English Language or English Literature for A Level, is ostensibly the taking of two GCSEs (Language and Literature).

The philosophy of both the English Department and The Downs School is that English, and education itself, are about more than the mere acquisition of examination results - important though these are. Emphasis is therefore placed on the development of skills which will be useful to the individual in further and higher education; the workplace and in personal life.

The assessment of skills in public examinations is part of measuring achievements balanced with the ability of individual young people to move on with confidence to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead in their lives ( be they academic; social; functional or practical).

Key skills in English, focussed on at every stage and level, involve the development of literacy skills, in reading; writing; speaking and listening linked to the Assessment Foci of the National Strategy which forms a central focus in our planning and the student experience.

Key Stage 3 is seen as a crucial springboard for success at the later and higher levels of GCSE and A level, and as such emphasis is therefore placed here on high expectations and achievement through an appropriate level of challenge for all.

Great care is taken with ensuring that students build on previous learning and develop the skills and knowledge base across the years. Students are also expected to set themselves their own personal targets, with the help of teachers where appropriate, and to learn from ‘failure’ as well as from success.

Alongside formative (for learning) and summative (for final results) assessment we hope to develop in students confidence and enjoyment in all these skills. We work collaboratively with the School Library, and occasionally cross– curricularlly  with the Media, History and Drama departments.

Students are encouraged to participate in a variety of extra-curricular events which run alongside the compulsory curriculum, for example theatre trips; theatre workshops from professional actors; Writing Competitions; Debating Club;Spelling Bees; reading challenges and visits to places associated with texts students are studying. In addition, in lessons and home–based study students are encouraged to participate actively through group work, role play, self and peer assessment, drama, setting their own assignments and independent inquiry. There is emphasis on taking personal responsibility for their learning, with teachers facilitating this through the appropriate levels of support for the individual student.

Those who are highly able or gifted in English, and those who have special educational needs, receive appropriate support and opportunities to develop their own abilities to the full. At times the curriculum is adapted to meet their particular needs.

Key Stage 3


In Key Stage 4, Years 10 and 11, we follow the Edexcel GCSE syllabus for English Language and English Literature. Assessment is in the form of a single tier of 4 separate Terminal Examinations (2 for Language and 2 for Literature) at the end of Year 11. No copies of the texts are allowed in the Examination.

There is no longer a Controlled Assessment or Coursework component. The new GCSE Awarding system awards Grades from 9 to 1.

The main links to the GCSE Edexcel Specifications are:

English Language: Edexcel


English Literature: Edexcel


Year 10 /11 examples of areas studied include:

  • A range of extracts from 19th century texts.
  • A range of 20th and 21st century non-fiction texts.
  • Writing of transactional and creative responses.
  • A Poetry Anthology of poetry post-1789.
  • Post 1914 novel e.g., ‘Lord Of The Flies’ or ‘An Inspector Calls’.
  • 19th Century novel e.g., ‘The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ or ‘A Christmas Carol’.
  • A Shakespeare play e.g., ‘Macbeth’.

The Speaking and Listening component (which provides a separate grade which does not count towards the overall GCSE grade) is assessed formally during Year 11.

GCSE Summary Curriculum Plan

A Level

How does A level differ from GCSE?

Studying poetry, drama, and novels will be familiar from GCSE. As an A level student, you will be given opportunities to be an active learner. You will be encouraged and guided to develop your own independent responses to literature, be this in your contributions in class, your coursework tasks, or in your research. You will usually work within a smaller group, usually in classrooms arranged in seminar fashion, to emphasise the collective nature of A level discussion. Another difference will be in your reading of challenging texts, where you will study in greater depth, and to a higher level than is possible at GCSE.

Why should I study English Literature at The Downs?

English Literature is an A level subject which is highly valued by the top universities, and which can open the doors to many future careers. As well as developing skills in research, essay writing, and discussion, which are highly transferable, English Literature also develops your ability to understand and use language to great effect. Language is power. Developing your use of language is of great benefit in future work and life contexts.

Results at The Downs are ‘outstanding’. Our A level teaching is consistently ‘red hot’ in terms of how it ensures students maximise their potential at GCSE. Out of 48 schools in West Berkshire who teach English Literature, we are top in terms of ‘value added’, and have been every year since we began appearing on the records: 1st / 48 schools in West Berkshire.

We set high expectations. Students apply each year to read English Literature at top universities, like Bristol, Durham, and Warwick. Four students in recent years have gained places at Oxford or Cambridge for English, and support is provided to guide all students who are interested in applying for these or any of the universities. English Literature remains a highly popular university course for students from The Downs.

Lastly, the subject itself. English is many subjects in one. English will involve you in other disciplines, in psychological explorations of character, in sociological examinations of social structures of class, gender, and race, in philosophical discussions of ethical choices facing characters, or the historical dimensions of works by Shakespeare, Mc Ewan, or Austen. In the end, English is more than simply a school subject. We may study fiction, and it may be true that Tess Durbeyfield never existed – but these texts explore our deepest psychological realities. Studying Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ illuminates the nature of our consciousness, and our psyche, while Austen’s ‘Emma’ explores the fundamental issues everyone shares in life, of making intelligent judgements, and finding the right partner.

So, if English Literature at The Downs is about valuable skills, outstanding results, and variety of material, it is also about more than this. It’s about life.

A Level Summary Curriculum Plan


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