Some thoughts on the Pearson (Edexcel) draft proposal for new GCSE history from 2016
As I read through Pearsons’ draft proposals for the new GCSE history specification which they will be submitting to OFQUAL next month, several thoughts occur. I mention these only because I have heard many schools enthusiastically voting for this as their preferred choice of GCSE specification, as things stand, and assuming they won’t change. I can see what Pearson is trying to do in terms of retaining their customer base (for Jack the Ripper, see Whitechapel murders as historic environment part of thematic study) but I really think this is an example of damage limitation rather than imaginative course planning.
I have five main observations I’d like to share with you.
Firstly, I am far from convinced that justice is being done to a study of the historic environment. Will the study of the British sector in World War 1, Whitechapel crime scene, or London during World War Two really give pupils a sense of local history? I remain firmly unconvinced that the study of the Whitechapel murders (or ‘Jack the Ripper by another name’) does anything to improve the coherence of this new GCSE.
Secondly, I am concerned that the modern study is anything but. All of the options have a terminal date of 1976. This really misses a great opportunity to link the past with the present. The nearest we get is, ironically, not in the modern module but in the period study of either Arab-Israeli conflict which creeps toward 1995 or superpower Relations and the Cold War, 1941–91
Thirdly I am not sure why we have only 3 choices of thematic study, just 4 for the British depth but 5 for the period and modern period study. Is this really what students need, or want, or just as case of publishers worrying about which titles they have on their stocks?
Fourthly, I am not sure why the early modern period has to be dominated by the Tudors, again. When so much hostile criticism of the history curriculum at all levels was aimed at Hitler and the Henrys, here we have a chance to study Henry VIII (20%) and Hitler’s Germany (15%) for over a third of the course. There is some attempt to offer some eighteenth century study of Britain relations with America but if you’re interested in the seventeenth century, forget it.
Fifthly, it will be possible for students to study very little medieval history. In fact it could be covered solely through the thematic study. Given that one of the thematic options Warfare and British society does not start until 1250 that leaves very little scope for much medieval history to be studied.
Implications for existing Modern World teachers- regardless of specification
There has been a lot of talk about the new proposals sounding the death knell for Modern World teachers. I don’t see it quite like that.
Modern World teachers will still be able to achieve at least a 65% modern course, twentieth century, course- more if they follow this route:
Modern study (30%)
Period study (20%)
of either Arab Israeli conflict 1945-95 or Superpower Relations and the Cold War, 1941–91
Thematic study of warfare and society focusing on the historic environment element of Britain during World War Two. We can assume about 15% (based on local element being 10% and modern world element of the thematic part being at least a fifth of the whole course).
The one area where teachers will have to teach non-20th content is the period study (20%) and majority of the thematic study-but not the local part so, say 15%.
Then there is the loss of all that work on international relations 1900-1941 and the internal history of the USA in the first half of 20th century. Pearson retains its focus on post-Second World War domestic US history through the Period study of The USA, 1954–75: conflict at home and abroad. This allows for the retention of the ever-popular Vietnam topic.
Implications for SHP teachers
As predicted the most popular thematic studies have been retained, but with a British focus only. This will be a significant departure from existing courses which have a broader perspective, though less so for Pearson teachers.
The retention of the Germany 1918-39 and American West units will be popular as will the Arab Israeli conflict. Quite why the Middle East conflict and Superpower rivalry appear as a period study and not a Modern one defeats me , especially as they are both more modern.
The biggest change comes with the British history unit. Of the four options being proposed (weighted at just 20%) only one-Elizabethan England- will have been taught at GCSE level by SHP teachers and then not by those who taught American West.
In terms of the percentage change, existing SHP teachers could study:
Modern world: Weimar and Nazi Germany 30% (This was always set against the American West and Elizabethan England so we can only count this once. Period study American West.
Period studies – these are, apart from American West, largely new.
Depth British- Elizabethan England ( NB this is misleading as Elizabethan England was always an option set against American West so we can’t use this as an indicator of degree of change)
Thematic- 30% continuity
Note there is no comparable local site study.
So overall it would seem possible to achieve just 60% continuity