December 2010
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E-Baccalaureate GCSE history for all but a handful? Be careful what you wish for!

If the new government’s stance on history and Gove’s appointment of Schama has done one thing, it is to throw the spotlight back onto GCSE history. I know we have only just got into our stride with the new GCSE specifications, but would you really wish this examination on all-comers in Year 9, Year 10 and Year 11? Amidst the current debate that GCSE history is one of the hardest subjects, (negative residual yet again in 2010), why do we think that all would benefit from it? It is not an exam for all. As it stands it is really hard. There are no tiers, no cheap marks but rather lots of reasoned argument, selecting and deploying of evidence, constructing and sustaining a balanced argument. But this is not the worst problem-its those bloody markschemes and ‘jump through hoops’ questions that have taken on a life of their own, perpetuated in the new examination. Having worked with a history department recently, I marked the students’ answers without reference to the markscheme and the did so again with it! It really was a salutary experience. I don’t wish this style of assessment on any 15 year old.

So let’s have a new GCSE, cast free from the shackles of old thinking. Start afresh with a new constituency in mind. Renew the debate about tiers, gloves off. Lets break the stranglehold of the exam boards. Lets have just one exam board with some really cracking courses and imaginative assessment. So much time and effort is wasted, and talent diluted, in trying to create, then standardise 4 Modern World and SHP courses. Why not simply one course of each, as I’ve said many times before, to deaf ears.

Having spent all my professional life under the cloud of the rotten-hearted GCSE which began 20 years ago, it is surely time that we went for root-and branch reform. We missed the opportunity in 2007.  But now things are different. Before,colleagues were content ( if unhappy) to go for preserving the status quo. Why change if it not really imperative? But now we have the imperative. We have a new , very different, cohort at the gates. What are we going to offer them? Now that is a  question worth debating !

Oh, and while we’re at it, lets get rid of the tag that history is difficult. Marks for all subjects should be on a par. Who tells the students and their parents in August when they get their results that history had one of the highest negative residuals nationally? What cold comfort if they did. That’s why it is kept quiet, a secret of concern only to NFER and the school.  It really is disgraceful that this is allowed to happen when a simple statistical adjustment is all that is required! I don’t want my kids penalised because they want to study a subject in which they start a fifth of a grade behind the others before the course even starts! If only all parents knew. Where is the little dagger next to the GCSE results in the school brochure explaining that GCSE history results were lower than other grades because of the exam, not how it is taught at the school? Does it appear in your school’s? I thought not.

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