New history GCSEs : Prescribed routes and prohibited combinations: will they attract?

Notwithstanding the latest press attack on the new specification for the thematic study on migration, if I were a subject leader I would be interested to teach this topic for GCSE from 2016. I would even be interested to stay with OCR following the Explaining the Modern World specification. That is until I look below the attraction of covering existing Modern World topics to discover the implications of selecting the migration thematic unit with Specification A. Not only would it mean that I was compelled to teach the Impact of Empire 1680-1730 topic, (whether I wanted to or not) but I would also have to teach Urban Environments: Patterns of Migration . I know that I could nest the environment study alongside either the depth or the thematic but is all just seems like overkill on one theme. There is even a hint of this within the advice OCR is offering on teaching migration. They suggest that schools might like to start with the thematic, then pause to look at the depth and then return to the thematic. I just wonder what students will make of it? Perhaps they won’t see it as being repetitive. After all, the dimensions and timescales are very different.

The issue is not confined to the migration thematic study either. With OCR A if you study Power, monarchy and democracy in Britain c.1000-2014 you have to study the Reformation and Castles. If you study war and Society c.790-c.2010 you have to study Personal Rule to Restoration 1629-1660 and  also have to study Castles from the same period as the Reformation group i.e. c.1000-1750. I must confess to seeing the castles link with the Reformation as being rather tenuous.

None of this is really the exam groups’ fault of course. They were given extremely unhelpful constraints to work within and certainly would not have ended up with these courses if they were not controlled by such  a tight rein . In my view, these untested unproven courses may well be worse than the narrower, but more coherent, courses they were intended to replace.

It will be interesting to see how popular these options turns out to be. Will centres reject the idea of prescribed routes? If they want to teach migration as a thematic topic will they simply jump ship and choose another exam group’s specification or even look to The B spec-SHP (when it is finally accredited). Or will it simply put OCR Modern World teachers off so that they retreat to the more familiar ground of Medicine and Crime and Punishment? I, for one, welcome a new thematic study and am looking forward to seeing fascinating new resources such as the University of York’s medieval database being used to raise and test hypotheses and to see topical issues being given proper historical context. I also want to prove the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph wrong!

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