Forget Hitler, think heritage...
Teenagers will be able to study medieval history for the first time as part of a pioneering vocational GCSE history course.
The qualification, being piloted in 70 schools from September 2006 by the OCR exam board, will also include options to study "heritage marketing" or "multimedia in history".
Jerome Freeman, from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said the first "really new" GCSE for more than a decade meant the chance to look at new content.
"It will be the first time that students will have an opportunity to study medieval history beyond the age of 14," he told an Institute of Historical Research conference.
Seventy UK schools will be teaching the pilot GCSE - 20 more than originally planned - after more than 200 expressed interest.
Traditional academic elements of the course involve compulsory medieval history, followed by a choice of either local or international history.
Se n Lang, honorary secretary of the Historical Association, said the new-style GCSE would for the first time make history accessible to less academic teenagers.
"It will give students the chance to get into medieval history when they're grown up," he said.
"It gets us away from the idea that history has to mean Hitler. Teenagers will get the chance to encounter history as they do in real life, through the heritage industry or the media," he added.
A spokeswoman for OCR said the pilot could involve students studying heritage sites such as York's Jorvik Centre, the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, or TV programmes such as the BBC's The Vikings or Channel 4's Time Team.
The unit in heritage management would involve students producing plans for renovating and developing a neglected historic site and ask them to plan a marketing campaign. The multimedia in history unit, meanwhile, would allow them to compare products such as CD-Roms.
Schools wishing to offer only the core academic elements will be able to do so in a one-year short course. Students who move on for a second year will choose two vocational and academic units from a range of nine.
The Historical Association and the exam boards are hoping the pilot will be a source of ideas for reforming the existing GCSE.
Professor Harry Dickinson, vice-president of the Royal Historical Society, said the vocational aspects of the course would be useful both for certain types of student, and for parents.
"Many parents think the only job available for a history student is becoming a history teacher," he said. "They need to recognise there is a range of jobs out there, in the heritage industry and in libraries or archives."
Mike Endy, history teacher at the Holgate school, an 11-18 comprehensive in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, said he was looking forward to teaching the new-style GCSE because of the new subject areas as well as the vocational aspects.
He said the school was keen to try a new assessment regime: only the compulsory medieval history unit will be assessed externally.
But Alan Smithers, education professor at Buckingham university, said: "If you are concerned that people are not particularly interested in an important subject like history it doesn't make sense to me to try and sex it up and move beyond what the subject really is.
"If you start talking about how history is presented in the media then you are throwing the baby out with the bath water."
* A new website aims to help teachers bring archaeology into lessons. Run by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council's Portable Antiquities Scheme, www.pastexplorers.org.uk will also offer children the chance to explore a virtual version of the Anglo-Saxon village of West Mucking.
FROM THE MIDDLE AGES TO MARKETING
The OCR's pilot history GCSEconsists of three core units: Medieval history: Either "Raiders and Invaders" (The British Isles c.400-1100) or "Power and Control: Kingship in the Middle Ages"
Local history: investigating an aspect of local history which is relevant today.
International history: differing interpretations of an event, issue, group or individual within the past 200 years.
Students taking the short-course GCSE study medieval history and one other core unit. Students on the full course choose two further units from the following:Heritage management and marketing; Multimedia in history; An archaeological enquiry; Whose history? Presenting the past (comparing media portrayals of an event, issue or individual); Change over time (an aspect of local, national or internationalhistory over 100 years); The migrant experience (the experience of a specific group of migrants in the 19th or 20thcenturies); A society in depth (any society at any time over 30-50 years, as long as not in a local area of Britain); Local history (see above); and international history (see above)