History A-levels to downgrade essays

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The Independent Online

New "pick and mix" A-level history courses will emasculate the subject and damage the art of essay-writing, teachers are warning.

One bone of contention is that students will not have to write an essay for a new AS exam - half an A-level - which they will sit at the end of their first year in the sixth form.Another is that a course with six bite-sized modules and an exam at the end of each will cover fewer topics and give a narrower view of the subject, teachers say.

From this September students are expected to take four instead of three subjects in their first year in the sixth. They may then decide to drop one or to continue with all four for the full A-level. In history, only the upper-sixth exams - called A2 - will involve essay-writing.

Sean Lang, head of history at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge and a member of the Historical Association's Secondary Committee, said that, instead of a broad 20th-century study of Russia until 1941, the Weimar Republic and the Nazis in Germany, all the peace treaties, Mussolini and appeasement in Britain, his students will be confined to Russia until 1929, Nazi - not Weimar - Germany, and Mussolini.

Government exam advisers say the techniques required for the AS exam will be just as challenging as essay-writing and that a final "synoptic" exam in every subject will draw all the strands together.

Mr Lang said: "People may not have written essays for GCSE and they do need help at first so we give them exercises but they need to be stretched by the end of the first year. It is too late to leave full essay writing to the second year."

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