The new specifications have much in common with current syllabuses, but there are some key differences.
First, the similarities. Schools and colleges can continue to select a GCSE specification from the three popular courses which awarding bodies have been offering in recent years - Modern World, Schools' History Project and Social and Economic History.
There is still a requirement for a GCSE course to be broadly based, for example, in studying history on at least two different scales, such as local and national, and from at least two perspectives, such as technological and cultural.
The maximum weighting of internal assessment (coursework) remains at 25 per cent of the total marks. Many of the features that have characterised particular awarding bodies' current syllabuses remain in the new specifications.
Possibly the most noticeable specific change is the requirement for GCSE history specifications to include "an element of British history andor the history of England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, building on the knowledge, skills and understanding acquired at KS3".
Although this has affected some specifications more than others, the awarding bodies have met this requirement in different and creative ways.
One of the changes made to the GCSE history criteria is the realignment of the assessent objectives (AOs). The revised AO1, which carries a weighting of 60-80 per cent, focuses on the candidate's ability to use knowledge of the period studied. AO2 and AO3 are jointly weighted at 20-40 per cent. AO2 relates to the use of historical sources and AO3 addresses historical interpretations and representations. As in the existing syllabuses, the questions that candidates will face can target one or more objective.
A new feature of the revised GCSE specifications is key skills. Unlike at AS and A-level, where the history criteria do not require evidence for Application of Number, all six key skills are included at GCSE. The awarding bodies are "signposting" opportunities for the development of key skills throughout the specifications.
Schools and colleges will find that there is a new specification very similar to their existing syllabus. However, it is certainly worth reviewing the alternatives, not least to see how the awarding bodies have taken different approaches to some of the new requirements.
There is ample scope within the new specifications for teachers to build on the knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils have gained from KS3, to create a coherent and engaging course for pupils at KS4.
Schools and colleges will receive the new specifications by the end of 2000 and they will also be available on the awarding bodies' websites.
Heather Richardson is principal subject officer, history and Jerome Freeman is principal officer, qualifications, at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 83 Piccadilly, London Q1J 8QA. Tel: 020 7509 5555. Web: www.qca.org.uk