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John Simkin

OCR’s Pilot History GCSE

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A new vocational GCSE history course is beginning in September 2006. It includes a compulsory unit on medieval history and a list of options including one entitled “Heritage management and marketing”. How does a subject become vocational by including units like this? Anyone thinking of doing the course?

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A new vocational GCSE history course is beginning in September 2006. It includes a compulsory unit on medieval history and a list of options including one entitled “Heritage management and marketing”. How does a subject become vocational by including units like this? Anyone thinking of doing the course?

If I was in the UK I would. Anything to break the Hitler monopoly has to be welcomed. I'd like to see heritage compulsory in the GCSE history course as well, although not management and marketing perspective. I have long argued that history teachers need to stop treating history students with a producer mentality that assumes kids are all wannabe historians. Most people encounter the past through heritage as consumers. Being able to deconstruct and decode heritage is as important as knowing how to do history.

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My school are part of the pilot, although I don't know much about it as yet. My HoD has been on a course though and, as I understand it, the heritage module is just one of the options you can pick. I must say I am quite keen to do some medieval at KS4, because we don't have a sixth form and so, up to now, I have only taught it to year 7. I will post again when I know more of how it is going to work.

Edited by Jan.D

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A new vocational GCSE history course is beginning in September 2006. It includes a compulsory unit on medieval history and a list of options including one entitled “Heritage management and marketing”. How does a subject become vocational by including units like this? Anyone thinking of doing the course?

If I was in the UK I would. Anything to break the Hitler monopoly has to be welcomed. I'd like to see heritage compulsory in the GCSE history course as well, although not management and marketing perspective. I have long argued that history teachers need to stop treating history students with a producer mentality that assumes kids are all wannabe historians. Most people encounter the past through heritage as consumers.

With all due respect Richard you are talking palpable nonsense.

You clearly have not been teaching in the UK or in the state sector for a considerable amount of time.

There is, and cannot be, anything "vocational" about the study of history.

This new philistine GCSE is just another example of the apparently terminal decline in academic standards referred to in a separate thread today.

Education develops the mind and makes people singular - training (aka vocational education) equips computer programmers to programme, and I guess museum curators to rip tickets in half. Training is designed to make people behave in a particular way. The training of the workforce is not and should never be the business of educators.

In these dark Thatcherite days we need more citizens capable of critical thought not fewer.

I will discuss your remark about the "Hitler monopoly" in a separate thread in the morning.

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Andy, oh so negative. Mind you so was I until I went to a talk by Jerome Freeman of QCA and he was very impressive. The vocational element comes more in the assessment of the course, with students being encouraged to use a lot more ICT. An example he gave would be to design a website for a local museum. What impressed me the most was the philosophy behind the move, which was very similar to the SHP approach. A global, national and local focus with a real effort to move into areas of history that have been moved off the mainstream curriculum at KS4. I was also impressed by the emphasis on parity with 'academic' GCSEs, with a strong focus on historical skills and making sure that this absolutely is not about 'dumbing down'.

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Andy, oh so negative.

Quite the contrary young man, I am passionately positive in my defence of education over training... as should you be.

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I have long argued that history teachers need to stop treating history students with a producer mentality that assumes kids are all wannabe historians. Most people encounter the past through heritage as consumers. Being able to deconstruct and decode heritage is as important as knowing how to do history.

I disagree. I think we should be trying to produce historians. Not because they will be historians (although many will be – family history is currently the fastest growing hobby in the UK) but because they need to become active citizens. The last thing I want them to be is passive consumers of culture.

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I disagree. I think we should be trying to produce historians. .

I agree - largely because by becoming sound historians they will develop the critical skills necessary to develop as thinking citizens.

I also have a number of issues with the concept of vocational education which I believe is essentially built on a falsehood.

Back in 1976 Prime Minister James Callaghan made his Ruskin speech which sparked this continuing and strange idea that education should be closely linked to training and the world of work. Callaghan asserted that unemployment was rising because schools were not preparing students for the workplace. The logic followed therefore that if schools spent more time training students work related skills then unemployment would fall. Now one doesn't have to have a degree in economics (or indeed a vocational business studies GCSE) to understand what hogwash such an argument is. Unemployment can be reasonably discussed as being caused by cyclical problems in the economy, or can be reasonably discussed as an inevitable feature of a capitalist system which relies on a reserve army of labour to depress wages.

What is can't be is blamed on is what sort of GCSE or A level a student takes at school. The whole wave of meddling in education which followed including such "memorable" initiatives as CPVE, GNVQ, YTS, NVQ, AVCE, Key Skills (God help us) have been peddled on the basis of a poor politicians poor grasp of economic theory.

I am also troubled by the social take up of vocational over "academic" subjects. What we see of course is that if you are working class you are far more likely to end up on a vocational course of some sort. The great and the good in education don't seem to value it at all! Public schools don't run the courses and top universities don't recognise the qualifications when it comes to University entrance. Is this not because we have created a system where the rich and privileged get educated whereas the poor get trained for jobs which will keep them poor?

I work in a secondary modern school in a working class town. Why is it that my students do vocational courses whereas the children who attend the middle class selective grammar school next door overwhelmingly do academic subjects?

It is also important to think about the real purpose of education when assessing the value or otherwise of vocational education. Training is something you do to prepare a person to behave in a particular way. Education is about empowering people to think for themselves. This is a simple but important distinction we would all do well do dwell on.

It is perhaps symptomatic of the triumph of training over education in this country that we have a Prime Minister who cannot distinguish between fact or fantasy or truth and lies, and apparently and just as disturbingly a number of history teachers who seem to have forgotten why they trained.

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I agree - largely because by becoming sound historians they will develop the critical skills necessary to develop as thinking citizens.

I also have a number of issues with the concept of vocational education which I believe is essentially built on a falsehood.

Back in 1976 Prime Minister James Callaghan made his Ruskin speech which sparked this continuing and strange idea that education should be closely linked to training and the world of work. Callaghan asserted that unemployment was rising because schools were not preparing students for the workplace. The logic followed therefore that if schools spent more time training students work related skills then unemployment would fall. Now one doesn't have to have a degree in economics (or indeed a vocational business studies GCSE) to understand what hogwash such an argument is. Unemployment can be reasonably discussed as being caused by cyclical problems in the economy, or can be reasonably discussed as an inevitable feature of a capitalist system which relies on a reserve army of labour to depress wages.

What is can't be is blamed on is what sort of GCSE or A level a student takes at school. The whole wave of meddling in education which followed including such "memorable" initiatives as CPVE, GNVQ, YTS, NVQ, AVCE, Key Skills (God help us) have been peddled on the basis of a poor politicians poor grasp of economic theory.

I am also troubled by the social take up of vocational over "academic" subjects. What we see of course is that if you are working class you are far more likely to end up on a vocational course of some sort. The great and the good in education don't seem to value it at all! Public schools don't run the courses and top universities don't recognise the qualifications when it comes to University entrance. Is this not because we have created a system where the rich and privileged get educated whereas the poor get trained for jobs which will keep them poor?

I work in a secondary modern school in a working class town. Why is it that my students do vocational courses whereas the children who attend the middle class selective grammar school next door overwhelmingly do academic subjects?

It is also important to think about the real purpose of education when assessing the value or otherwise of vocational education. Training is something you do to prepare a person to behave in a particular way. Education is about empowering people to think for themselves. This is a simple but important distinction we would all do well do dwell on.

It is perhaps symptomatic of the triumph of training over education in this country that we have a Prime Minister who cannot distinguish between fact or fantasy or truth and lies, and apparently and just as disturbingly a number of history teachers who seem to have forgotten why they trained.

Great posting. One of the problems about an exam driven school system is what happens to those who have to play the role of failures. Why should they go along with this charade? As Paul Willis pointed out in Learning How to Labour, once students realize what is going on, the meaning of school changes. Their major objective is now to “have a laugh”. These students become difficult to control. The idea of getting a grade E at GCSE is fairly meaningless. Their exam results are only a means of letting people know what they can’t do.

This has always been a problem for teachers. I am of an age who remembers what it was like to teach CSE history.

As Andy has pointed out, over the years, attempts have been made to provide non-academic examination courses based on vocational skills. Geography teachers have embraced this idea and every year thousands of students do courses in “Tourism”. They are persuaded to believe that this will enable them to get managerial posts in the industry. This is of course a lie. The people who do those jobs will have academic qualifications. True, many of those with vocational qualifications in Tourism will find themselves working in the industry. However, it will have nothing to do with their qualifications. In fact, it will have everything to do with their lack of qualifications. They will be doing jobs like cleaning hotel rooms and serving at tables.

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I have long argued that history teachers need to stop treating history students with a producer mentality that assumes kids are all wannabe historians. Most people encounter the past through heritage as consumers. Being able to deconstruct and decode heritage is as important as knowing how to do history.

I disagree. I think we should be trying to produce historians. Not because they will be historians (although many will be – family history is currently the fastest growing hobby in the UK) but because they need to become active citizens. The last thing I want them to be is passive consumers of culture.

The last thing I want them to be is passive consumers of culture. As I said in the post you replied to 'Being able to deconstruct and decode heritage is as important as knowing how to do history.' ie I think students should learn the critical analysis skills associated with doing history in the classroom, but in addition they need to equipped to be critical, reflective consumers of heritage. I don't think we do this as well as we might at the moment. All the history exams I prepare students for (except my own) excusively focus on the analysis of primary sources or (to a lesser extent) the writings of historians, ie. what historians work with or what historians do. This is 'past orientated' working with the past. I don't think this prepares students to understand 'present orientated' working with the past ie heritage.

I suppose it might be argued that by default, having recognised the characteristics of 'real' history, students can spot 'fake' heritage and dismiss it as such. But for me there are at least two problems with this:

1. Heritage can look a lot like history.

2. Heritage should not be dismissed.

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"These students become difficult to control. The idea of getting a grade E at GCSE is fairly meaningless. Their exam results are only a means of letting people know what they can’t do."

Well if this is the case, and the current GCSE history patently does not meet their needs, why not let these pupils have a go at the new vocational GCSE and see how they get on with that?

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