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Textbook history is source of concern

Exam boards are setting questions based on textbook extracts instead of genuine historical sources such as reports from First World War soldiers, the Historical Association said this week.

Standards were falling as a result of the dramatic increase in questions on passages taken straight from textbooks, the association said.

In an analysis of recent A-level and GCSE exam papers, it found examples in AQA and Edexcel GCSE, AS and A2 papers.

Se n Lang, the association's honorary secretary, said he was particularly unhappy to find an extract from a book he had written in one paper.

"Textbooks are something to guide you through the course of study," he said. "They are not historical sources themselves."

He said the analysis found that AQA was a serious offender at GCSE because extracts from textbooks were often longer than those from original sources.

Edexcel is the worst offender at A-level and AS-level, the association said. It is "standard practice" for the board to set textbook extracts as sources at AS. In a report calling for a radical overhaul of exams, due to be published in full next week, the association will say:

"Textbooks are changing from being tools to aid learning and becoming the sole end and focus for the learning itself."

Its report will reinforce concerns about the "Hitlerisation" of history. Mr Lang said Mussolini and the Spanish civil war were now "hardly taught" at GCSE, a marked change from the exam's early days and from its predecessor, O-levels.

The association argued that work on historical sources should be removed from exams, and instead assessed in schools by teachers.

Mr Lang said that if papers did include such questions, then they should be based on genuine historical material such as diaries or newspaper extracts.

An AQA spokeswoman said the board used textbook extracts to make original source material more accessible for students of all abilities.

An Edexcel spokeswoman said it did use original source material such as speeches by Oliver Cromwell used in last year's A-level paper. The textbook extracts it used quoted from original sources and were "contemporary readings of history".

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