GCSE Reform – what will the boards offer?

I’ve been reading @mfordhamhistory‘s blog post on the new GCSE content requirements  – you can find his thoughts here.

I think, overall, I’m a little more positive than he is about the changes.  Like Michael, I’ve taught Modern World GCSE, unlike him I have never taught a full SHP course.   I have experience of SHP from my training, and from visiting lots of schools that have followed those specifications.   I can see the potential for a ‘long duree’ style of course, and have seen medicine and crime and punishment courses where this perspective has been successfully and engaging taught.

I think there are other reasons why we can be positive about some aspects of what is coming.  Firstly the rules about overlapping periods have been relaxed.  Whilst the depth studies must not overlap, the period and one of the depth studies can be from the same ‘era’.  This reverses a change brought in last year which meant that it would not have been possible to study International Relations between 1919 and 1939 at the same time as studying the depth study on American Society in the same period.  This arbitrary rule was supposed to bring ‘rigour’ as it required the students to know about more ‘periods of history’, but ignored the fact that, beyond some interesting areas of overlap which enriched students’ understanding of the period, this did not mean that revising for one of these topics would mean that you didn’t have to revise for the other one.  Both required the substantial teaching of large amounts of different material.

The second thing is that Modern World might not be quite as dead as we would think.  Michael is right that whilst individual European Modern World courses will survive, the requirement to have a mixture of ‘medieval’, ‘early modern’ and ‘modern’ makes it impossible that a specification that has only modern papers will be approved by OFQUAL. However, the relaxation of the overlap rules (if I have read it right) could see, for instance, a “Medieval / Wider World” study, a “Modern British Depth Study” and a “Modern European / Wider World Period Study” with the “Thematic Study” fulfilling the requirement for history from the Early Modern Period.  So, this could mean a European Depth Study which covers the period 1900-1950, perhaps on the cause of conflict, which could be taught alongside a British depth study on life during either of the World Wars.

Alternatively we might see the same ‘Modern European and Wider World’ study on some aspect of the European Civil War from 1900-1950, along side an Wider World Depth Study on ‘American Society in the 1920s’ or ‘Germany during the 1930s’ with a British Early Modern Depth Study on the reign of Elizabeth the first*.

The complicating factor is the requirement that ‘British history must form a minimum of 40% of the assessed content over the full course’.   Under the old GCSE the requirement of 20% British history was easy to fulfil – one of the papers simply had to be ‘British’.  Under this new GCSE, I suspect, this cannot happen because of the requirement for two depth studies, one British and one Wider World.  This therefore seems to mean that ‘British’ content in the thematic and wider world courses will count towards this total.  Of course, much will depend on how this requirement is applied by the boards, and enforced by OFQUAL.   It seems to me that they will have to approach this requirement with some discretion, given that there has to be a wider world depth study, and a British depth study – unless the depth studies are going to be worth 80% of the final marks awarded between them.

Of course, all departments are going to have big decisions to make, and lots of work on their hands, given the scale of the changes at KS4 and KS5.  This is one of the reasons that I think the boards will be anxious to ensure that every centre can see something, and possibly even a combination of topics, that they are already familiar with, if OFQUAL let them.

*We could have great fun coming up with GCSE specs that would annoy those so critical of the previous GCSE criteria.  I could foresee one that sees students studying Hitler, Henry VIII and ‘life on the the American continent from early times to 1850’ for instance.

Make history with Mass Observation

Mass observation would like to hear from you at – http://www.massobs.org.uk/12may.html.   They are repeating a historical request from the 12th May 1937 for people to record what they did on that day. That original request was part of Mass Observation’s mission to produce ‘an anthropology of ourselves‘, and which has produced a huge amount of material that has in turn made possible some excellent books, which you can find on their publications page. A great example is We Are At War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times, which is a great source of anecdote and of evidence for people’s thoughts during the Second World War.

Now they want to gather information about ‘the ordinary’, which could be an ‘extraordinary’ for future historians, and present day social scientists.

Write as much as you can about what you do, who you meet, what you talk about, what you eat and drink, what you buy or sell, what you are working on, the places you visit, the people you meet, the things you read, see and hear around you and of course what you yourself think.

MO say that they welcome contributions from groups. What better way to help students start to understand how ‘sources’ are produced than getting them involved too?

Head of Department Interview Questions

I went for a job recently, which I didn’t get.  Obviously I’m disappointed, but I’ve always thought that I should be able to take the knocks if I put myself forward for good jobs.  Having decided that my interview technique let me down, I set about re-jigging my page on interview questions.

Also, I had to teach a lesson on ‘significance’, which apparently went very well.  I liked it anyway, the students were engaged, and it got great feedback.  Now I think about it, the feedback from the day was excellent, easily the best I have ever had.  The head gave me precise reasons why I wasn’t the preferred candidate, and in a positive way told me exactly what I would need to do to get such a position next time.  Which makes it doubly disappointing that I didn’t get the role – it seems that she would be a very good person to to work for.

You can find the materials for the significance lesson on this page.  I’m hoping that I don’t put too many other lessons on it 🙂 .

Autism and Well Being

Via Crooked Timber,  I picked up this fascinating blog post.  I have taught children on the autism spectrum at all levels of attainment, and I must admit that it is something that really interests me personally as well as professionally.   This post makes me think again, very carefully, about ‘stimming’, which I have seen, but not named or thought about in this way.  I have assumed that it is an expression of discomfort – which it is sometimes, but not always.

It’s also an extremely moving piece which implicitly appeals for tolerance of difference, a tolerance which should be extended to all children, including those with autism, and ends with a call for awareness of each person’s individual account of their well-being.  Well worth a read, as is Crooked Timber where I found it.