Some thoughts on the new AQA GCSE history proposal for first teaching in 2016.
Of all the new specifications this is the only one which landed on the front page of the national newspapers. This was largely to do with one of the options entitle conflict and tension 1990-2009. AQA would like to claim some other ‘new’ topics. For example, in the ‘thematic’ section there are Britain and the people (no dates but referred to as being from medieval times to the present) and Migration, empires and people (again, no dates but referred to as being from Vikings to the present. There are also four ‘new’ optional British studies from which school choose just one. They are depth studies: Norman England 1066-c.1100; Medieval England- the reign of Edward I, 1272-1307; Elizabethan England c.1568-1603; and Restoration England 1660-1685. Quite why these have been chose, I have no idea.
Anyway, let’s have a closer look at the specification in detail. There are 4 elements
1. The Period Study
Here there were 4 options:
a. America 1840-1895 ( fitting perfectly the current SHP module
b. Germany 1890-1945 ( note the broader scope than most existing SHP depth studies on Weimar and Nazi Germany)
c. Russia 1894-1945
d. America 1920-1973
The reason for there bring two American options, is of course, to appeal to both SHP and Modern World teachers. Is this really how a GCSE specification should be constructed?
2. World Depth Study
Here there is a choice of 5, all concerning international relations, and all but the most modern one are familiar to Modern World Teachers. Unfortunately, they can choose just one from:
a. Conflict and tension 1894-1918
b. Conflict and tension 1918-1939
c. Conflict and tension between East and West 1945-1972
d. Conflict and tension: Asia 1950-1975
e. Conflict and tension 1990-2009
3. Thematic study
Three options are offered here, very similar in content to the other boards’
a. Britain: health and the people ( unhelpfully no start of finish dates but we can assume Roman Britain to the present
b. Britain: power and the people: ( apparently from medieval times to the present)
c. Britain and the world ( from Viking times to today)
There is no Crime and Punishment thematic study
4. British depth studies-including study of the historic environment
The inclusion of the historic environment within the given depth studies, rather than allowing centres to select, is an interesting if potentially dangerous strategy. Students are offered the choice of 4 periods to study and then look at the historic environments from within that period.
a. Norman England (sic) Note how Britain has become England. Surely some very sloppy editing here!
b. Medieval England- the reign of Edward I ( This is again an appalling error. How can anyone seriously think that a study of Edward’s reign can be encapsulated under the heading England when so much of the time he was thinking about Wales and Scotland
c. Elizabethan England 1568-1603. Quite why the first decade has been left off defeats me. Once again it might be because the religious settlement is thought to be too challenging but more likely so that it roughly approximates in number of years to the other options. Some SHP schools have previously taught this option as a depth study
d. Restoration England 1660-1685. The shortest and probably the least well-resourced at this level.
The study of the historic environment has been included in the depth study, thereby reducing the allocation of marks. This might sit better with OFQUAL than OCR’s SHP offering which stipulates 20%. I’m far from convinced that AQA’s solution will work, however. AQA states that it will focus on ‘ a particular site in its historical context’ and examine the relationship between a specific place and associated historical events and developments. ‘ Each year’, they say,’ we will nominate an appropriate site, which will be well-known and supported by resources. This will stretch the exam paper setters and will require a lot of resourcing from a low base. English heritage and The National trust will be delighted.
Mercifully there are no prohibited combinations.
Implications for Modern World and SHP teachers
If you are a Modern World Teacher, you will be fine with Element 1 the period study and with the world depth study. The rest of it will be totally new, so we can say that as much as 50% will be new.
For SHP teachers, you are fine for the period study and the thematic study (assuming you do medicine) and can possibly make use of some local material but the world depth study will be new, as will the British depth. At best I would say 45% will be new.