No, this post will not be a stab at engaging in Francis Fukuyama’s argument of ‘the end of history’, but rather something much more important: the end of the A-level History cohort for 2018. Yesterday the class completed their third and final exam and have now reached the end of their two year A-level course.
Of course, for many will engage in the study of history at degree level, or at the very least will read a book or two of historical worth. But in terms of the culmination of the course this Tuesday was ‘the end’ of a two year road, starting in September 2016 and resulting in these summer exams in 2018.
Furthermore, ‘the end’ is also apparent for this particular specification. Gone is the OCR specification that I turned to after the big changes across the board in 2015. I first went with OCR because of the interesting topics and we plumped for three juicy topics:
- Lancastrians, Yorkists & Henry VII (1445-1509)
- Germany – Democracy & Dictatorships (1918-1963)
- Popular Culture & the Witchcraze
Each of these modules provided me with more knowledge and experience, but it also concluded with the need to get away from this OCR specification due to the burden on the students. The first two modules gave the students over one hundred years of history to engage with, and both felt as if they were lacking a clear direction. For example, the module ‘Lancastrians, Yorkists & Henry VII’ engaged in the Wars of the Roses, but the final chapter of this – Henry VII’s reign – was rushed and is more attached to a study of the Tudors themselves. Whilst the second unit ‘Germany – Democracy & Dictatorships’ gave the student the opportunity to delve into the troubles with the Weimar Republic and the Nazi dictatorship, but then continued on-wards post-war until 1963. This left students with a period of history that was rather dull, with an emphasis on political and domestic policy (economic change in the FRG anyone?).
But ultimately the crunch decision came with the third module ‘Popular Culture & the Witchcraze’. The material itself was fascinating and something that I’ve enjoyed reading about. But it must be said that this is not a module for A-level students to confidently and accurately study, and is more suited for a study at degree level. The reasons for this are many: there is no actual start-start, there is no actual end-date, there is no geographic limit (western Europe: yes, central Europe: yes, eastern Europe: why not, Britain: okay, American colonies: sure!), and at the end of the day there is a ridiculous area of contention regarding the trials (due to lack of records and conflicting theories). On top of all of this are the questions posed in the exam itself. Let’s take this year’s paper as an example:
- ‘How different was urban and rural popular culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?
- ‘Witch hunts were rural not urban affairs.’ How far do you agree with this view of the persecution of witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?
The first question was based on a small part of the overall module, with a tiny amount provided in the endorsed textbook by Alan Farmer. The second question suffers from the same issue (lack of actual content and provided examples), and also suffers with the nature of the question: the vast majority were rural affairs!
All of this added to frustration of students and staff, and has led to a change of specification. Students starting this September will only do two modules across both years (The Tudors and Germany 1918-1945), as well as a piece of coursework. Immediately this reduces the burden on students in studying and attempting to remember so much content, and hopefully will allow them to engage more deeply and meaningfully in the periods of history. So, in many ways, this is a beginning as well as ‘the end’.