Letter: GCSE needs more essays

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The Independent Online
Sir: Judith Judd's article "Pupils should write more. Discuss" (12 May) raises an important issue for students wishing to study GCE A- level history. Since the demise of the GCE O-level there has been a decline in the number of opportunities students have to engage in essay-writing. Until the advent of Key Stage 4 history, only one syllabus (NEAB Syllabus B, Modern World History) still retained the essay question as a feature of a terminal examination. However, through the medium of coursework, virtually all GCSE syllabuses allow students the opportunity for extended writing.

Although I agree with the general thrust of the argument put forward by Chris Husband of Warwick University and Christine Counsell of the Historical Association about the need to reinforce and extend the importance of extended writing at GCSE history, it could have unfortunate side-effects. At present, history is perceived to be a relatively demanding GCSE option because of its extended writing demands. Since the launch of Key Stage 4 GCSE there has been a 17 per cent fall in the number of students taking GCSE history. Any further attempt to increase the demands of GCSE history will exacerbate this trend. Rather than increase the demands of GCSE history alone, surely the way forward would be to increase the opportunities for extended writing across a wider range of GCSE subjects.

DERRICK MURPHY

Altrincham, Greater Manchester

The writer is chair of the history committee of the Northern Examination and Assessment Board

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