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Core A-level elements to be widened in focus

Nicholas Pyke reports on moves to stop a drift away from British history. The Government's curriculum agency has moved to stop a drift away from British history at A-level by insisting, for the first time, that England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales must be studied.

The School Curriculum and Assessent Authority has also ruled that English A-level has to cover "key texts from the English literary heritage". Candidates will in future be obliged to study at least three pre-20th century books.

Last week it emerged that the new rules, part of the latest overhaul of A-levels by SCAA, will involve banning calculators from enough questions in A-level mathematics to account for 25 per cent of the marks.

SCAA is rewriting the "core" elements of A-levels in order to create the new, shorter, AS qualification recommended by Sir Ron Dearing in his review of 16-19 education.

History was the focus of particular concern in the summer when the examination boards ceased to offer syllabuses concentrating on British history before 1850. SCAA is attempting to persuade the boards to re-institute at least one GCSE exam course of this sort.

At A-level, the new rules mean that students must study the history of the British Isles (or of the separate countries) and write about a period of time covering at least 150 years. A SCAA spokesman said this is to "prevent a similar drift away from British history at that level".

There is also a requirement that the courses cover more than one nation or state. This means that the existing British history syllabuses will need to be amended to include non-British history.

In English A-level, there will be a minimum of eight texts to be studied. Two of these must be from before 1900 and one before 1770. The books, say the new rules, "should be of sufficient substance and quality to merit serious consideration."

A SCAA spokesman said that it would be impossible for students to obtain an A-level in English literature without being introduced to "key texts from the English literary heritage".

In geography there is a new requirement that students must look at the geography of the United Kingdom, as well as that of other countries.

There will also be a greater emphasis on understanding grammatical systems in modern foreign languages.

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