THE MOST British and most rigorous of all A-level history courses is to be scrapped under Government plans to cut the number of different syllabuses on offer.
The Cambridge History Project is widely considered to be the closest A-level course to university study and is 90 per cent concerned with British history. But it is set to disappear as exam boards have been told to cut up to two-thirds of their A-levels as part of ministers' review of post-16 qualifications.
Historians fear the move will lower standards and stop the development of innovative courses. The Oxford and Cambridge Board, which runs the course, blames market forces for its demise. The syllabus, which focuses almost entirely on British history from the Anglo Saxons to the present day, had only 700 candidates last year after six years in operation.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has told the board it can offer a maximum of 45 A-level courses from 2000; it currently runs more than 150.
David Platt, head of history at Harlow College, Essex, and member of the project development team, believes the course's future should depend on its academic, not economic, merits. He said: "It is probably one of the most expensive courses to run and the uptake has been slow, but it is a relatively new course and the board should consider its academic merits."
Rosalyn Ashby, of London's Institute of Education, who helped design the original syllabus, said: "This is the end of curriculum development in exam syllabuses. It will wreck curriculum development because there will be no point in trying to get anything new off the ground."
Cutting the number of syllabuses was proposed by the Dearing report in 1996, which also recommended the number of awarding bodies should be reduced.
A spokesman for the exam board said: "We are only able to offer more than one syllabus in a limited number of subjects. This is our decision, not QCA's. We are much keener to defend our other innovative second syllabuses which are growing in popularity."
Historians are also concerned for another innovative course, London syllabus E, which includes a unique teacher-designed programme worth 30 per cent of the course. But with more than 4,200 candidates, its awarding body Edexcel intends to submit it to QCA for approval as one of two history courses it hopes to offer.
Professor Eric Evans, of Lancaster University and Edexcel's chair of history examiners, said: "Although the Cambridge History Project is radical and innovative it has never been terribly popular. London Syllabus E is radical in a completely different way and has been more popular."
A-level reform, 10.