Twentieth Century Histories GCSE will raise the bar

Published: 20 December 2011 at 13:22

Anglia Ruskin-based thinktank’s new history course aims to stretch students

The Better History Forum is preparing to launch a pilot GCSE course which will demand greater historical knowledge from students and will avoid the sort of ‘cheating’ by examiners that has recently been highlighted in the press.

The Better History Forum, a thinktank of history teachers and lecturers and based at Anglia Ruskin University, has developed ‘Twentieth Century Histories’ which will cover a much wider range of topics than current GCSE courses.

Dr Sean Lang, Senior Lecturer in History at Anglia Ruskin and Director of the Better History Forum, said:

“The recent revelations about irregularities in the examination system are not just the result of the drive for league table results; they are also an almost inevitable result of a systematic downgrading of the importance of subject knowledge. 
“It is only by re-emphasising the absolute necessity for young people to develop a substantial body of knowledge in the subjects they study that we can hope to get away from the idea that you can get an A* for knowing not very much at all.”

Stretching from the First World War to 9/11, ‘Twentieth Century Histories’ will involve two exam papers and a coursework exercise.  The new course, which will draw on a large online archive of historical documents and sources, will give students more credit for the more history they know and test students’ ability to argue, reason and explain from proper historical evidence.

Students will spend the first year of the course gaining a comprehensive overview of the history of the twentieth century, including the World Wars, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the development of modern Britain.  In the second half they will study the major political ideologies of the period and the growth of emerging nations.

The course builds upon the Better History Forum’s proposals for a major overhaul of National Curriculum history, to give a much fuller picture of the long-term history of Britain.

Dr Sean Lang added:

“This pilot GCSE proposal will stretch students, broaden their horizons, extend their knowledge, develop their understanding and ability, and prepare them both for further study and for full and informed citizenship of their nation and of their world.
“Unlike some current GCSE courses, it won’t have textbooks written by examiners, it won’t be possible to get a high grade on minimal knowledge, and it won’t penalise wider knowledge or original thinking.”

The Better History Forum will be presenting the proposals at its conference at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, on Saturday 28 January.  Full details of the conference are available from  Any teachers interested in being involved in the pilot GCSE should email