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History of immigration to be included in new GCSEs

New history GCSEs will see pupils studying migration into Britain and the fact that it “has always been a feature” of the country, it emerged today.

News of the qualifications, developed by exam board OCR, comes with controversy over immigration at the top of the political agenda.

The board hopes that including the topic will encourage more teenagers to take history. Mike Goddard, the board’s head of history, also suggested that knowledge of previous waves of migration into the UK could also help contemporary discussion on the issue.

“The history of migration into our country doesn’t necessarily inform these debates and potentially it could do in a useful way,” he told TES.

Significant periods of immigration since Roman times will be covered in a topic included in two new history GCSEs being developed by the board for first teaching from September 2016.

Mr Goddard said migration to Britain had ranged from the Vikings and 17th century Huguenots to modern day Syrian refugees, with causes ranging from empire and trade to people fleeing persecution.

“While numbers migrating into and away from Britain have fluctuated over the centuries in response to politics, economics and social conditions, migration has always been a feature of Britain’s history and make-up,” he said.

“Students might be surprised to learn about the size and experiences of the black population in London in the 1750s, which, although estimates vary, may well have numbered up to 15,000 people. Or that at least ten languages were in use in medieval England.”

Migrations that may feature in the GCSEs include the Croatians from Dalmatian who built the Roman Hardknott Fort in the Lake District and the many examples of Africans, and Greek merchants in British Roman society.

More recently, research has suggested that as much as 6 per cent of London’s population in 1440 were foreign migrants.

The draft GCSEs will be submitted for accreditation in spring 2015 and the optional migration topic are in response to government reforms that require history students to undertake an extended study of a theme from at least medieval times to today.

They will be required to show they understand the reasons for immigration, the experience of immigrants and their impact on Britain. They also need to be able to explain the roles played by Britain’s overseas connections, beliefs, attitudes and values, governments, economic forces and communications.

Mr Goddard said: “Migration is an ideal history topic for GCSE students to study, allowing them to consider fundamental historical concepts such as continuity, change and significance, rooted in the major events of England’s history.

“Doing this through the lens of the movement of diverse groups of people has the added benefit of contemporary relevance.”

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