GCSEs in Bond and bombings

18th April 2008 at 01:00
Iraq war, international terrorism, July 7 attacks and action films are topics in revamped exams

Pupils will get the chance to assess the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, and consider why people become terrorists, in the biggest shake- up of GCSEs in 20 years.

The history exam, from OCR, is the most eye-catching among the new syllabuses, which are launched next year.

There will also be questions on action-adventure films like James Bond and Indiana Jones in media studies, and questions on humanism in religious studies.

The developments are in draft specifications from OCR, the third largest examinations board, which is making a bold push for a bigger share of schools' business.

On Iraq, topics include the debate over weapons of mass destruction and the post-invasion condition, along with Saddam Hussein's human rights record. Thousands of pupils protested against the invasion in 2003.

Sean Lang, 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 encouraging students to consider how effective terrorism has been since 1969.

Pupils are asked to address the questions, "why do people become terrorists?" and "why is terrorism generally condemned?" The effectiveness of three groups - the Irish Republican Army, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and al-Qaeda - will also be covered. Another history exam, by rival board Edexcel, has a section on the July 2005 London bombings.

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 population shared humanist views on morality.

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

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

For the first time, languages GCSEs will allow pupils to be assessed while conversing with classmates. It is part of the replacement of traditional end-of-course oral exams with in-class assessment.

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