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Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Wednesday, 2 February 2011
Cambridge historians to lead GSCSE syllabus change
Houses of Parliament in Thames
The study of parliamentary democracy could be back on the syllabus

A Cambridgeshire academic has been asked by the government to re-write parts of the school history syllabus.

Dr Sean Lang helped found the Better History Group and is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire's Dr History.

"I, and various others, think that students are being required to know a lot less now than they used to," said the Anglia Ruskin University lecturer.

In November 2010 the Better History Group called for a major shake-up of the history syllabus.

Now it appears the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has listened to them.

History of Britain

The Better History Group submitted a report to the government which called for:

• A broad baccalaureate of compulsory major subjects to be studied to 16

• An outline history of Britain to be studied by all students from 11-16

• An emphasis on the extension of students' historical knowledge

• The removal of work with historical sources from history exams

• A revision of assessment at GCSE and A-level to reward, rather than penalise, original thinking

Fewer than one third of 14-year-olds currently go on to do history at GCSE level.

Witch and cat, lantern
Studying witchcraft is a way of looking at how women were viewed in the past

Dr Lang said the proposed changes are not just for students who want to study the subject at university.

"I think it impoverishes life if there are aspects of our history that you don't know about," he continued. "You don't really understand much of what's going in the world if you don't have that background.

"Many children don't learn about how parliament developed, why we have a two-party system and what parties are.

"That's pretty important, particularly in modern politics with coalition government, to understand what a political party is, how they change and how they have formed coalitions in the past."


His group includes Nicholas Kinloch, a professional tutor at Netherhall School in Cambridge, and Martin Roberts, from the Prince's Training Institute.

The way history is taught is also being targeted by the group.

The historians are not happy that some schools lump history in with other humanities subjects, like religious studies and geography.

But if the thought of learning about the 19th Century Parliamentary Reform Acts reminds you of the bad old days of top-down history and chalk and talk, the Anglia Ruskin senior history lecturer said their plans are far more imaginative than that.

"Witchcraft was a very important part of life in Tudor and Stuart times," explained Dr Lang.

Children could study it at a basic level at primary school, then expand their knowledge in secondary school.

"And then when you've got a pretty good outline of British history you can start looking back over it and drawing out themes," he continued.

"One of them is looking at the lives of women and children and how they've changed, because accusations of witchcraft were mainly - not entirely, but mainly - directed at women, and very often children were seen as the victims of witchcraft, so it's quite a good topic to look at."

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