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'Dismal' exams risk letting history repeat itself

History should be examined using more teacher assessment and a wider range of compulsory topics, the Historical Association said this week.

Its report on the 14-19 curriculum calls for a radical overhaul so that exams give both pupils and teachers an incentive to wider reading.

"History has immense potential for widening horizons and engaging the interest and imagination. At present, we feel that history examinations militate against this," it concludes.

Writing in today's TES, Sean Lang, the association's honorary secretary, describes the report's verdict on the quality of GCSE and A-level exams as pretty dismal. The report warns of duplication of topics and calls for analysis from historical sources - sourcework - to be removed from exams because the material used is often "too short for meaningful work".

Rather than answering questions that are "dull, formulaic and divorced from the context of genuine historical investigation," pupils' sourcework should be assessed by teachers.

The report says that different stages of the 14-19 curriculum have been developed in isolation but should be planned as a coherent whole.

"Current specifications at GCSE and ASA-level allow schools to provide students with narrow chronological choices and to repeat topics at different levels," it says.

"The national criteria for history examinations need to be amended... to include a wider range of mandatory topic areas, and to prevent over-repetition of particular topics."

The warning came as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's annual history report found the secondary curriculum was increasingly dominated by Hitler's Nazis, because teachers were good at it and the topic was popular with pupils. The association recommends that any new 14-19 history curriculum should give greater prominence to a "genuine link between the past and present at local, national, European and global levels".

At present, limited knowledge prevents many pupils from making historical comparisons beyond the strict limits of their courses.

It points out that history's generally optional status post-14 means that most pupils drop the subject.

The study also stresses the importance of "inquiry work", saying it could fit well with the individual research project suggested by the Tomlinson report.

Inquiry work could be an individual study of a topic chosen by the pupil or a "guided" inquiry, with the whole class looking at the same thing.

The association also calls for continuous training for all history teachers, with development of subject knowledge a priority.

Opinion 23

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