Invest in study of the past to secure future

6th September 1996 at 01:00
Sizing up opportunities: small classes can only improve key stage 2 test results, says the ATL.

I read with great interest your article "Historians want to curb growth of GCSE rival" (TES, August 30).

Yes, history as a GCSE subject is under threat. Why?

First, it is sadly no longer a compulsory element of the 14-16 curriculum. As Michael Riley argued last week, the humanities option block at key stage 4 has largely disappeared and history has to compete with a second language, expressive arts subjects and vocational options; Year 9 pupils and their parents are easily convinced that history is less relevant.

Second, history is in direct competition with geography, and, as Christine Counsell points out quite rightly, "geography is perceived to be easier". At GCSE level, history is more difficult than geography; it demands high level intellectual skills of reasoned analysis and evaluation. Pupils are required to test the reliability of historical evidence with reasoned evaluation, to construct a logical argument leading to valid conclusions and to consequently present extended written analytical responses. In contrast, geography GCSE papers require more factual recall, shorter written responses and less analysis and evaluation. Pupils, when forced to choose, therefore select geography because it is the easier option. My own Year 9 pupils have said this to me.

Third, history is mistakenly perceived - especially by ill-informed parents - as a "dead" subject: it is about the past so how can it be relevant or useful to today?

History should be part of the 14-16 core curriculum. History is an integral part of a balanced curriculum and all pupils should confront the intellectual challenges outlined above. Geography exams must be made more difficult to challenge and extend the pupils to ensure the consolidation of skills and understanding. History teachers should not be defensive but should boldly proclaim that the present is explained by the past and that history teaches relevant lessons and transmits a cultural experience.

We talk about raising standards. Pupils say that history makes them think. The subject's skills are particularly relevant. We should promote history and invest in the subject to secure our children's future.

GARY TERRETTA School administration co-ordinator Millais School Horsham, West Sussex

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