Islam and Africa feature in new Gove history A-level

19th May 2014 at 17:52

The "rise of Islam" and pre-colonial African kingdoms are among the new topics that pupils could study in a reformed history A-level, it was announced today.

The planned qualification is one of a raft of a new A-levels due to be introduced from 2015 as part of education secretary Michael Gove’s drive to make the exams “more rigorous”.

But the focus of the history A-level, which also includes the Arab Spring, Genghis Khan, and the Ottoman and Mughal empires, may prove controversial for an education secretary who has emphasised the importance of teaching British history.

The qualification has been developed by OCR, the same exam board that earlier this month provoked a contemptuous reaction from the Department for Education when it announced plans for an English A-level that included the study of an interview with rapper Dizzee Rascal.    

Sources at the department later described the qualification in English and English Literature – with texts that also included the oral evidence on drugs policy that comedian Russell Brand gave to Parliament – as “rubbish” and “dumbing down”.

The reformed history A-level aims to improve preparation for the study of the subject at university by encouraging students to “develop greater understanding of how different parts of the world relate to each other”.

Professor Peter Mandler, president of the Royal Historical Society, who is backing the qualification, said: “It is particularly important not to tell the history of the non-Western world solely through its contact with the West.”

Mr Gove (pictured), by contrast, has emphasised the importance of school history lessons ensuring “that we can celebrate the distinguished role of these [UK] islands in the history of the world”.

OCR believes its A-level can help a move away from the repetitive study of topics like Hitler and the Tudors, which has recently been seen as a problem in England’s schools.

Only two of the ten new topics in the qualification specifically relate to Britain.

Mike Goddard, OCR head of history, said: “It’s vital that schools and colleges have an opportunity to deliver, for example, the history of pre-colonial, non-western civilisations, alongside British history.”

“OCR’s new African Kingdoms c1400-1800 topic, for example, developed with help from experts in higher education, will give students, for the first time, the chance to discover the economic and political power of four pre-colonial kingdoms, which had far-reaching global trade and diplomatic connections.”

He said the board would offer support for schools that wanted to take the “brave step” of teaching a broader range of history, with an online tool outlining the resources available. 

The new qualification will be submitted to exams regulator Ofqual for accreditation early next month. 

The full list of its ten new topics are:

  • Alfred and the Making of England, 871-1016
  • Early Anglo-Saxons, c400-800
  • Genghis Khan and the Explosion from the Steppes, c1167-1405
  • Japan, 1853-1937
  • African Kingdoms, c1400-c1800
  • The Rise and Decline of the Mughal Empire in India, 1526-1739
  • The Rise of Islam, c550-750
  • The Ascendancy of the Ottoman Empire, 1453-1606
  • China and its rulers, 1839-1989
  • The Middle East, 1908-2011, Ottomans to Arab Spring


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