July 2015
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New GCSE history study of the historic environment component from 2016

New GCSE history study of the historic environment component
Assessing students’ understanding of the historic environment in the new GCSE history courses from 2016

As we await the verdict of OFQUAL on the draft submissions for the new 2016 GCSE history courses, one of the more interesting outcomes will be those relating to the different ways the boards have treated the study of the historic environment. The offerings of the different boards couldn’t vary more widely.

To recap:


AQA will announce the sites to be assessed when it has had its proposal approved but we know that the case studies will be drawn from the Norman, Medieval, later Elizabethan or Restoration periods. It will be embedded in the British depth studies and will be worth 10% of the final marks.

AQA will publish the specific sites three years in advance on their website. The board may well have difficulty ensuring that the resources for this wide range of constantly changing options are always available to schools when they start teaching the topic.


Edexcel offer three options:

a. Crime and Policing in Whitechapel from 1870-1900
b. Surgery and Treatment on the British Western Front 1914-18
c. London and the Second World War 1939-45

I don’t know about you but the first two seem very far-fetched. You can see the third one working but it is obviously very London-centric, as is the first, of course. The time-scale of each is incredibly narrow (between 5 and 30 years only) compared with other boards’ options which span centuries, making it very difficult for centres to look at change over time, a common approach with local studies.

This component is worth approximately 10%.


In the true SHP tradition dating back to the early 1970s, the SHP’s proposal still calls this component History Around Us and allows centres to select their historic environment to study. “Centres will have completely free choice of the site to be studied and learners will have the opportunity to study the fascinating history around them”. The weighting for this element of the course is much higher than all other courses, at 20%.

OCR A Explaining the Modern World

OCR says: Our site study is the final element – this can be a site local to your centre or a site that we have provided resources for, studied alongside a site specified in this specification – that allows learners to study the historical environment. This site study will be connected to your theme. Our site resources will be produced in conjunction with English Heritage and the Black and Asian Studies Association (BASA).

The two options here are :

1. Urban Environments: Patterns of Migration (between late 17th century and early 21st century)

Centres look at a site of their own choice which complements OCR’s designated sites 2018 site: Butetown, Cardiff
2019 site: South Shields, Tyne and Wear
2020 site: Spitalfields, London
2021 site: Toxteth, Liverpool
2022 site: St Paul’s, Bristol

For the purposes of this study, the definition of an urban environment can include any of the following: a street, section of a street or group of linked streets that contains a range of buildings with different uses; a small town; or a distinct area of a larger town or city. This definition cannot include only one building; nor the whole of a large town or city.


2. Castles: Form and Function 1000-1700.

There are two elements to this study. One castle nominated by OCR as below:

2018 site: Framlingham Castle
2019 site: Kenilworth Castle
2020 site: Carlisle Castle
2021 site: Stokesay Castle
2022 site: Portchester Castle

AND castle site chosen by the centre which complements the specified site. Centres will have a free choice of the site or sites they choose to study. A site visit is usually desirable but is not an essential requirement.

This is weighted at 10%.

The OCR draft specification makes it clear which option centres have to plump for. This is important as the choices are quite narrow: basically urban environments or castles.

If you are studying ‘Migration to Britain c.1000 to 2010’ (J410/08) and ‘Migration and Empire 1688–c.1730’ (J410/11), your study of the historic environment will be: Urban Environments: Patterns of Migration. If you are studying ‘Power: Monarchy and Democracy c.1000 to 2014’ (J410/09) and ‘The English Reformation c.1520–c.1550’ (J410/12), your study of the historic environment will be: Castles: Form and Function c.1000–1700. If you are studying ‘War and British Society c.790 to c.2010’ (J410/10) and ‘Personal Rule to Restoration 1629–1660’ (J410/13), your study of the historic environment will be: Castles: Form and Function c.1000–1700. The study of the historic environment should take approximately 12 guided learning hours to teach

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