OCR A level Literature: NEA approach

Since the arrival of the new syllabus we have worked with an NEA which really works for us. I learned during last academic year that we need to change our choices. Irritating, but a chance to develop a new approach.

Our current approach uses Jerusalem (Butterworth) or History Boys as the basis for close analysis. I opted for a WW1 lit theme in poetry and prose as the comparative pairing simply because this remarkably productive area is now off-syllabus at both A level and IGCSE level and I feel that all students should explore War literature at some stage.

The critical analysis has been so exciting – I teach the Jerusalem classes and have seen great work both in the recreative element and in the analysis – students engaging in societal hypocrisy, the role of women in the play, presentation of Johnny Byron as a messianic figure or a mythological hero and teenage sexuality – all rich areas for discussion and requiring non-consecutive pages to be analysed, to get a sense of development through the play. Similarly any work on History Boys tended to be non-consecutive when character driven simply because a play with such short scenes requires this approach if interesting writing is to be produced.

In the Spring, after submitting numerous essays to OCR for suitability, the final essay to be submitted for my Lower 6th class, entering in 2019 was rejected on the grounds of non-consecutive being used.

To cut a long story… I phoned and was told that after consideration it had been decided that all close analysis was to be undertaken on consecutive pages. I have been sent an email of dispensation for students submitting this year and next year, and told that the specification will now be corrected to address this error.


Already there is a requirement to use 3 or 4 pages in the novel or drama option against 40 lines of poetry as a suggested quantity. I believe this renders the non-poetic option almost untenable for any question considering development of character, plot or theme.

So, a rethink.

I am committed to Jerusalem. It is a staggeringly complex and rewarding text and I do not wish to lose it. So I put forward the idea of NEA texts based around teenagers/young people finding their place in life, whatever that means. It now goes like this:

comparative texts: Jerusalem and a range of novels mainly drawn from the new realism of the 50s and 60s –  Saturday night and Sunday morning, Lucky Jim, Room at the top, Up the junction, and Brighton Rock from the late 30s. students will be given copies of these texts and will be free to develop their own choices if appropriate after discussion.

Close Analysis: Heaney: Death of a Naturalist. I had not wished to use poetry in this area simply because I felt it was too convenient and wanted to stretch Literature students by mining a whole drama text, but heigh-ho. I love this anthology, and feel that it shares a pastoral link with the Butterworth which may provoke interesting discussion. I hope so.


As I consider the links between Jerusalem and the novels which I grew up with – at school in the 1970s these were required reading – genuinely modern novels in that context. They seem to have fallen from favour and are ripe for a new generation of students to encounter.  Here’s hoping.