Thoughts on the new draft OCR GCSE history specifications

Thoughts on the new GCSE history proposals from OCR for teaching from 2016
As you probably already know, there are two distinct offerings from OCR. It would be too crude a division to suggest that one caters for the SHP devotees whilst the other offers continuity for ‘Modern World’ schools. Indeed OFQUAL’s criteria would not permit this. Having said that, you can see clear blue water between them.

Option A is called ‘Explaining the Modern World’. It has the following 5 distinct components:
1. Overview of International Relations from 1918 to 2011 (bringing the course much more up-to-date than other boards’)

2. A 20th century depth study comprising one of 7 options:
a. China 1950-81
b. Germany 1925-55 (interestingly, avoids early Weimer but has a decade after Hitler’s death)
c. Poland 1950-1990. This is a relatively new kid on the block though it will have featured in Cold War outline courses in the past.
d. Russia 1928-64, avoiding Lenin and the revolution and leading up to the fall of Khrushchev
e. South Africa 1960-94. This will prove a popular choice I’m sure for students who are in the thrall of Nelson Mandela but they might not be getting what they expect
f. USA 1919-45 Standard fare
g. USA 1945-74 incorporating Vietnam, popular with many students.

3. A thematic study with three options:
a. Migration Through Time. This was announced to a wave of media hype. The issue here is whether it might reject what many schools have planned for KS3 thematic study.
b. Power, Monarchy and Democracy 1066-2007 Again, it will be difficult to pretend that this is new. Surely most KS3 history curricula already cover this.
c. War and British society c.790-c.2010 I wonder how gender-neutral this will turn out to be. I have my concerns. There is also an A level module on this bringing unwelcome repetition for some.

4. British Depth Study At first sight this might seem the least coherent of the five components of the course. Again we have 3 options:
a. Empire and Migration c.1688-1730 which must be studied by those who opted for Migration Through Time This would suggest that the idea is that this would constitute a depth study within an overview study.
b. The Making of England must be studied by those who opted for Power, Monarch, Democracy 1066-20007. I’m not sure how attractive this combo will be. It would help to know what the start and finish dates are. Sloppy!
c. Personal Rule to Restoration 1629-1660 This must be studied by schools opting for War and British society. Though selecting a civil war is a little strange at least students can study the 17th century in depth.

5. A study of the historic environment
This is far from a Modern World Course. All Paper 1 will be devoted to the 20th century and some of the thematic study but little else.
My key concern lies in the umbilical link between the Thematic study and the British Depth Study.

The SHP course
Given that the alternative OCR course already contains a thematic, depth and local dimension (three central planks of the SHP platform) it is perhaps curious that OCR see the need for an additional SHP course. Does it warrant it? How different is the offering.
Again we have five elements:
1. Thematic study (British)
a. People’s Health c200-present
b. Crime and Punishment c200-present.
Both of the above are recognisable from existing SHP courses but they are now clearly British and nothing Pre-Roman. This is more of a loss with Medicine Through Time where non-British achievements were so fundamental.
c. Migrants to Britain c200- present.

2. British Depth Study
Here we have 3 options which seem fairly arbitrarily chosen:
a. The Norman Conquest 1065-1087 will revisit much of Autumn term of Y7!
b. The Elizabethans 1580-1603 This will enable schools studying Elizabethan England to focus on arguably the more exciting parts.
c. Britain in Peace and War 1900-1918 This will attract many modern world teachers who have always looked at this period in depth as a key part of the OCR course.

3. The Historic Environment
The interesting point here is that it has been allocated 20% of the final mark. I am not sure that OFQUAL will swallow this. Their recent correspondence suggested a lower allocation.

4. Wider World History – Period study Again three options very wide-ranging:
a. The Viking Age c750-1050 This will not have been studied since primary school so little problem of duplication. This should prove attractive.
b. The Mughal Empire 1526-1707. The issue here will be avoiding going over ground covered in KS3
c. The Making of America 1789-1900 It will be interesting to see how many schools see this as the American West bye another name.

5. Wider World Depth studies. Three options revolve around the theme of invasion and conquest.
a. The First Crusade 1070-1100 will allow for revisiting of Y7 work
b. The Aztecs and the Spanish Conquest of Mexico 1502-1527 offers something very different. Now no longer studied, even at KS2 there is plenty of scope for great work on interpretations of Cortes etc.
c. Living under Nazi Rule 1939-45 A very safe option, one that a large number will take.
So overall, if this goes through, existing SHP teachers will be able to continue with:
a. Study of the Historic Environment (20%)
b. The Making of America (say 15% of the American West)
c. Living under Nazi Rule (all 20% is existing)
d. People’s Health (all 20% is existing)
e. British Depth Study is new
So in all 75% is ‘as you were’. One does wonder what ever happened to the post-war world for Modern World Study!

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