Ancient history faces the sword

ANCIENT HISTORY A-level is poised to become a thing of the past because the only exam board running it in England is preparing to ditch the subject in an apparent cost-cutting move.

From next year, students who want to study Athenian democracy or the Roman Empire could only do so in what classicists call a "very diluted" form if the OCR board's plan goes ahead.

The move was unveiled today in draft A-level specifications that would see ancient history being merged with classical civilisation. This is despite the fact that since 2000 the numbers taking ancient history have trebled from about 300 to 1,000.

Peter Jones, of the National Co-ordinating Committee for Classics, said classicists had not been consulted. "There will be no chance for anyone to study in depth at A-level topics such as Athenian democracy and the battle of Thermopylae, the Roman Republic or the Roman Empire," he said.

"A generation of students has been stimulated by Boris Johnson's TV series on the Roman Empire and high-profile films such as Gladiator and 300. It is a supreme irony that they will have no opportunity to pursue ancient history in-depth post-16."

The ancient history A-level, devised by Cambridge historian Sir Moses Finley, dates from the 1960s. It has encouraged students to use primary sources, translated into English, to learn about the ancient world. It has recently won a following in FE colleges. Dr Jones said more state students study it than those in the private sector. He said classical civilisation is a study of cultures rather than history, so ancient history would no longer be taught.

OCR's move is the latest in a string of changes suggested by exam boards in a bid to reduce their overheads. In 2004, the AQA board prompted complaints in Parliament when it proposed to scrap Latin and Greek GCSEs and A-levels.

But the Government accepted the move because OCR continued to run the courses.

Last year, Edexcel backtracked on a plan to abandon music technology A-level, for which it is the only board, following complaints from teachers.

An OCR spokesman said similar content to ancient history was covered in the new classical civilisation A-level. He said: "OCR is committed to enabling students to study classics and we are the only awarding body still offering a comprehensive suite of A-levels in this field.

"It is designed to allow classics to flourish over the next two decades, meeting the needs of schools and colleges, and matches the revised (government) subject criteria for classics."

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