Let’s all be honest we don’t like GCSE history as it currently is. At my school all my colleagues agree that KS4 is our least favourite key stage. Key Stage 3 allows us to be creative with enquiries and content. Key Stage 5 allows us get our teeth into tricky content and interpretations. Key Stage 4 is frankly a bit crap. Therefore, I’m going to say something that might not make me very popular, I am looking forward to the GCSE history changes.
Our current GCSE is not good history. We do the OCR SHP GCSE and it isn’t great. The medicine course is overly long, it takes us half a year and the kids get bored by the end. The Germany bit I like (I am a Nazi history fan – I am becoming Mark Corrigan from Peep Show by the day) but again it takes too much time. The controlled assessment is too formulaic. The exam questions are too narrow and boring. For many this will be the pinnacle of their history studies and this is all we offer them – I am a little embarrassed sometimes. This is not a reflection of OCR. They’ve been great and very helpful but they are constrained by DfE, OFQUAL and others. If I taught AQA and Edexcel, whether I taught SHP or Modern World, I’d be saying the same thing. The current GCSE History is too narrow, too boring, too formulaic and not a good representation of history.
Now another moment of truth. When Gove slagged off GCSE History a few years ago did you silently think “oh my god I agree with him“. I did. That’s why this next year is exciting. We have the opportunity to pick something new, something good, something we don’t need to be embarassed by.
Now in the last few weeks the new exam specifications and sample assessment material have been emerging and the offerings from the different boards are quite different. The DfE guidance was vague enough to allow some very different interpretations to emerge. Some I love, some I think less of, but so far I think all of them are better than what we currently offer. I’ve been helping with the OCR SHP offering (funnily enough with the Nazi bit) so I won’t comment on the different offerings as I am little biased – read Rich McFahn’s blog for that.
As the options emerged people inevitably began talking about them on Twitter and I was struck by the number of people who said they were choosing options based on how many units they could continue teaching. I appreciate that with A-level changes and KS3 changes its a daunting idea to teach a new GCSE on top. I appreciate that new units could mean new textbooks and take time. But this is really sad – don’t let practicality drive your decision or you’ll end up teaching a very similar sad GCSE to the one you do now. This is our opportunity to create something new and brilliant.
Surely the thing that should be driving our decision is ‘what is the best history for my students‘. I know this won’t make me popular for saying it but I think it’s true. When picking a course I think we should be thinking about what we want our KS4 students to leave with (as most students do end their history here) and whether the specification meets this vision. We should be thinking about whether the individual units hang together properly to give an overall historical understanding. We should be thinking about whether there is the correct balance of depth and breadth. We should be looking at the sample assessment material to really consider if the questions will stretch and challenge our students. We should be thinking about what compliments our KS3 and KS5 curriculum (finally we probably know what these look like!).
Isn’t this all way more important than whether you teach the same thing as you do now?