The study of English at Merchant Taylors’ can be viewed as one complete course spanning seven years, broken into three main interdependent stages, one leading to the next, and the last to university.

Lower School

In Years 7, 8 and 9, pupils are introduced to the delights of English Language and Literature. Our aim is to develop and nurture the linguistic skills that students will need in order to face the challenges ahead.

Boys concentrate on four main areas of English, explored through a broad variety of different texts and genres:

  • Literature (Prose, Poetry and Drama)
  • Media, non-fiction and associated writing skills
  • Language and Grammar
  • Speaking and Listening

All topics are chosen to develop and stimulate skills of cognition, communication, interpretation and analysis. Boys are encouraged to consider deeper implications of texts and to seek answers to broader questions about their relevance and application to their lives today. We encourage critical thinking and aim to develop the boys’ independence as they learn to engage with challenging texts.


Boys are entered for both English Language and English Literature GCSE and are awarded two separate grades at the end of Year 11.

Both courses build on skills and knowledge of English developed during Years 7, 8 and 9 and provide a firm foundation for further study of English Language and Literature at A-Level.

English Language is assessed by two examination papers, both featuring unseen texts. Each will demand responses assessed for reading comprehension and for original writing.

Paper 1 – Explorations in Creative Reading and Writing. Here students are assessed on their ability to analyse and engage with an unseen fiction text. They are also tasked with producing a creative piece in the final section of the paper.

Paper 2 – Writers’ Viewpoints and Perspectives. Here students are assessed on their ability to analyse, engage with and compare two unseen non-fiction texts. They are also tasked with producing an argumentative written piece in the final section of the paper.

English Literature also features two examination papers, both featuring a range of literary texts.

Paper 1 (40% of total award) focuses on Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ and a further question on a pre-1900 work of fiction, typically Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’

Paper 2 (60% of the award) features a range of questions on different texts. Texts covered here include Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls,’ either the ‘Love and Relationships’ OR ‘Power and Conflict’ poetry clusters, as well as a final section on unseen poetry.

A Level

Students may elect to study English Language or English Literature at A-Level.

English Language

The English Language course places its focus firmly upon exploring the interpretive and creative skills of students. The first year of the course involves two papers; Passages for Comment invites students to explore the language and styles of a range of non-fiction and occasionally fiction extracts, while the Writing paper asks students to produce one creative piece, often fiction, and another written response for a different audience (e.g. a travel guide or an advice brochure).
In the second year of the course, the focus is on more theoretical approaches to the study of English Language, such as Sociolinguistics and Child Language Acquisition. This is an excellent preparation for popular English Language and linguistics-based courses at reputable universities.

English Language is a natural bedfellow for a number of Arts, Languages and Humanities A-Levels, with both its creative and analytical focal points. It also serves to support those scientists looking to achieve crispness and clarity in their prose style.

We are keen to empower our A-Level students to write for local and national publications and to oversee the editing and production of our own literary magazine. Collaborative and leadership skills are therefore vital – students should expect to be asked to lead assemblies and to work with younger pupils to hone their interest in writing.


English Literature

In the first year of the course, the focus is currently on the genre of Tragedy and the compulsory study of a Shakespeare play, which means Othello may be taught alongside Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

In Year 13, focus shifts to the crime genre, where students study a number of set texts including Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the postmodern novel When Will There Be Good News?

The non-exam assessment asks boys to write about two texts of their own choice in line with various literary theories and this is a real opportunity for them to explore wider reading and develop a greater interest in canonical writing.

Students benefit from the intensive individual attention of highly experienced teachers and from discussing their ideas with peers in the classroom. Lessons are conducted in an academic style but with rapport and not without humour, with an important emphasis on the discursive, giving care and attention to developing students’ prose style through regular essay practice.