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GCSEs focus on Bond films and war in Iraq

Pupils will to get the chance to assess the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war and consider why people become terrorists in a new GCSE.

The history exam from the OCR board is the most eye-catching of new syllabuses starting next year that will also contain questions on action adventure films in media studies and humanism in RE.

On Iraq, topics include the debate on weapons of mass destruction and the country's post-invasion condition, along with Saddam Hussein's human rights record. Thousands of secondary pupils took part in protests against the invasion in 2003.

Sean Lang, honorary secretary of the Historical Association, said: "Giving pupils the chance to study the Iraq war will be a very popular move but teachers will have to make sure they set aside their own views."

OCR's history B syllabus also risks controversy by inviting students to consider how effective terrorism has been since 1969. They are asked to address the questions: "Why do people become terrorists?" and "Why is terrorism generally condemned?"

The effectiveness of three groups - the IRA, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and al-Qaeda - will also be covered.

Another history exam, by rival board Edexcel, includes a section on the July 2005 London bombings.

The textual analysis unit of OCR's media studies course will now include an optional section on action adventure films. Pupils will be shown an unseen extract from an action adventure film lasting between three and five minutes, which could be taken from any film in the genre, such as James Bond and Indiana Jones films.

Ian McNeilly, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said action adventure was a valid course of study. "It's easy to denigrate genres that aren't considered academically robust," he said. "But like any other genre, it has certain characteristics that can be assessed and investigated."

In a religious studies GCSE from OCR, focusing on philosophy and ethics, students can choose to study humanism alongside one of six religions, and to address issues such as euthanasia and abortion.

The board said its new course reflected the growing number of humanists in the UK.

Andrew Copson, director of education at the British Humanist Association, said surveys showed more than a third of the UK population shared humanist views on morality. "It's great that OCR has brought humanism within the scope of its GCSE," he said.

Full GCSE coverage, pages 16-17.

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