No stiff upper lips over British history curb

21st February 1997 at 00:00
The most British A-level history course is to be scrapped as it becomes the first high-profile victim of Government rules curbing the number of syllabuses.

The move comes despite the fears of ministers and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority that British political history and national heroes are disappearing from exam courses.

Last week Education Secretary Gillian Shephard announced all A-level courses must include a "substantial" element of British history.

Now schools taking the Cambridge History Project A-level, which is 90 per cent concerned with British material, have been told by the giant Oxford and Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council that it is to be discontinued from 1999. In future there is a limit of only two syllabuses per exam board for each major subject.

Schools and historians say abolishing the course - one of the most intellectually demanding - could lower standards. Cambridge history is widely regarded as the closest A-level course to university study.

Professor John Fines from Exeter University said: "The exam embodies some of the most advanced thinking about what a history course should be."

Christine Counsell, chair of the Historical Association's Education Committee, said: "The CHP is particularly rigorous. Who, amid all these A-level revisions, is guarding the intellectual coherence of history? This is a bureaucrat's change."

New restrictions on A-level courses prompted concern from subject specialists who fear reducing the number of syllabuses will restrict choice. But ministers and SCAA say a plethora of syllabuses hampers comparisons of standards.

"Schools wishing to retain the CHP syllabus should take up the matter with OCEAC," said SCAA.

The board refused to commentbut it is understood to feel it is doing no more than SCAA's bidding in restricting the number of syllabuses.

The Cambridge History Project A-level focuses almost entirely on British history - from the Anglo Saxons to the present day. It deals with the period of the English Civil War and associated constitutional issues.

David Platt, head of history at Harlow College, said: "This decision is perverse given the Government's desire to see British history taught. This is about the most British course you could get".

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