There's too much Hitler - and too many Henrys - in our schooling system

The varied options of a new A-level ought to be welcomed

Share

So OCR, one of the three boards which sets school exams in England, has announced its proposed new A-level history syllabus. It has to be approved by Ofqual and if it’s accepted then it will be taught from September 2015.

The syllabus includes world history options such as Genghis Khan and pre-colonial Africa. Cue predictable howls of outrage from Ukip sympathisers and readers of certain tabloid newspapers who don’t see much beyond calculatedly emotive headlines.

A few facts. Almost all examination syllabi offer a wide range of options from which teachers select. In this specific case there are 58 topics to choose from and only ten are new. Topics come in three sections – world history, British history and historical themes. Teachers have to choose just one from each section. So there are 55 topics in this proposed syllabus which any individual candidate will NOT study. I don’t think – perhaps regrettably – we are likely to see thousands of A-level history candidates totally absorbed in studying the rise of Islam instead of the tyranny of Henry VIII.

And old Henry – along with one Adolf Hitler – is nine tenths of the problem. Pupils, and maybe teachers too, like tyrants. Most GCSCE and A-level syllabuses have allowed students to opt to study some aspect of the Tudors and the twentieth century dictators.  And in many schools they are studied at Key Stage 3 – the early secondary years too. Henry VIII and WW2 are on the National Curriculum for primary schools as well. That could mean no fewer than four bites at the Hitler/Henry cherry, to the exclusion of a lot of other history.

And that’s the really worrying thing because such lazy, populist repetitiveness is anti-educational. It breeds ignorance too - which is the exact opposite of what schools exist for.  Any self-respecting student, teacher, parent, ‘educationist’ (whatever that is) wants as much as possible to be taught - and learned - in schools. The curriculum in every subject should be managed to ensure some sort of continuum which makes absolutely certain that nothing gets carelessly done more than once. It needs intelligent collaboration between the national syllabus setters, and responsible interpretation at school level.

It isn’t exclusive to history of course. English is my subject and there’s a great deal of text repetition in schools. Shakespeare wrote over thirty plays and every exam syllabus offers a choice. It is in my view, unforgivable to teach, say, Macbeth for GCSE and again for A-Level, with students who quite possibly did it at Key Stage 3 as well.

Yet, I have worked with teachers who argue that it’s a good thing because it means that by the time they reach A-level the students know it really well – if they haven’t died of boredom that is.

As Head of English, I insisted that each class studied a different play in the first three years and worked it out carefully so that none of these would appear again at GCSE or A-level. It wasn’t exactly difficult to contrive. And I did the same thing with novels and poetry. I wanted all students to be exposed to as many different texts as possible during their five years (we didn’t have a sixth form) with us. We tried to widen horizons rather than limit them. That’s real education.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste