History exams seriously flawed, say teachers

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The Independent Online

Secondary school history needs a "complete overhaul" to stop hundreds of thousands of 14-year-olds abandoning the subject, a government-funded report by history teachers and academics has warned.

Secondary school history needs a "complete overhaul" to stop hundreds of thousands of 14-year-olds abandoning the subject, a government-funded report by history teachers and academics has warned.

Bright pupils risk being penalised in "seriously flawed" school history exams that reward wrong answers and muddled thinking, the Historical Association, which represents 6,000 teachers and academics, said yesterday.

The year-long review was ordered by Charles Clarke when he was secretary of state for education, in response to concerns that the secondary school history curriculum was dominated by lessons on Hitler.

The association, which is concerned that most pupils drop history at 14, called for all teenagers to study some form of history up to 16, including in citizenship lessons. Only 230,000 of 600,000 pupils opt to continue to study history to GCSE each year. Fewer than 44,000 go on to A-level.

The report, which has been submitted to Ruth Kelly, the current Secretary of State, found that while history teaching was generally good, there were "serious flaws" with A-level and GCSE courses and exams. It condemned setters of exam questions for encouraging and rewarding speculation.

Exam questions neither stretched the brightest nor supported the less able, it warned.

Sean Lang, the report's author, said secondary school history put too much focus on Hitler and Henry VIII and forced pupils to study these topics repeatedly throughout their school careers. He warned that these topics had been introduced without considering whether they were already taught to other age groups. Important subjects such as the British Empire and even the Holocaust had been squeezed out of the curriculum, he added.

"History teachers have long been scapegoats for a perceived lack of historical knowledge among young people and the general population," he said. "Our report shows that the problem lies not in the classroom but in the process of examinations and assessment."

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