All students in the UK will study English at primary and secondary level, including at GCSE. However, at upper secondary level some students may also choose to study either GCSE English Language and/or GCSE English Literature. Some students may choose to study English at A level and then perhaps go on to study it at degree level when they go to university.
The overarching aim for English in the national curriculum is to promote high standards of language and literacy by equipping pupils with a strong command of the spoken and written language, and to develop their love of literature through widespread reading for enjoyment.
The national curriculum for English aims to ensure that all pupils:
• read easily, fluently and with good understanding
• develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information
• acquire a wide vocabulary, an understanding of grammar and knowledge of linguistic conventions for reading, writing and spoken language
• appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage
• write clearly, accurately and coherently, adapting their language and style in and for a range of contexts, purposes and audiences
• use discussion in order to learn; they should be able to elaborate and explain clearly their understanding and ideas
• are competent in the arts of speaking and listening, making formal presentations, demonstrating to others and participating in debate.
Studying English at GCSE involves responding to fictional and non-fictional texts, and the English Language exams also involve writing fiction and non-fiction texts.
The focus of English Literature A level is the study of novels, poetry and plays, though it also can include prose other than fiction such as biography, travel writing, essays and scripts for films or television.
The central method of this study is close textual analysis, but also you will read texts using the tools of historical contextualisation and more theoretical or philosophical approaches.
At A Level English courses focus on the need to write coherently in a mature and sophisticated style. Additionally, you will develop the skills of textual analysis. The cornerstone of any literary essay is the apt use of references to the source text. These references must then be carefully explained in terms of what they mean and how they achieve that meaning.
A traditional degree in English Literature remains very well respected as a qualification – it is considered a ‘facilitating subject’ – because it requires effective oral and written communication and the ability to synthesise, analyse and evaluate demanding material.
Those wanting to study Literature at university often combine English A level with A levels in Modern Foreign Languages, History, Drama, Philosophy, Politics, Economics, Psychology and Classics.
A degree in English is considered a good grounding for a career in journalism and the media and perhaps essential for those who want to work in publishing. It is not unusual for those who work in the legal profession to have an undergraduate degree in English before converting to study law.
Work in administrating organisations such as theatres and galleries are also often undertaken by those with degrees in English.
A good first port of call for those interested in studying English either at A level and/or at degree level is to visit the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) website.