General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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Schools opt out of A-level history


15/12/2008  ::  Northern Ireland  ::  The Irish News

A quarter of all secondary schools are opting out of A-level history – prompting fears that the subject may go the same way as Latin.

The decline is being blamed partly on competition from vocational courses and subjects perceived as softer, such as media studies.

Hundreds of pupils are therefore leaving school with little or no knowledge of major historical events such as Catholic emancipation, the Famine and 19th-century nationalism and unionism in Ireland.

Examiners say the study of modern history greatly helps pupils’ job prospects in areas such as communications, research, politics, law, financial planning and education.

It also helps children develop their understanding of how the past has been interpreted and represented.

History is still a relatively popular subject at A-level – being studied by about 8 per cent of pupils.

However, A-level history is now being ignored by almost a quarter of the north’s secondary schools.

The north’s exams board – the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment – says A-level history develops the analytical, argumentative, communicative and evaluation skills that are so highly prized by today’s employers.

However, of the 223 secondary schools in the north – both grammar and non-grammar – 102 did not have a single pupil sitting A-level history, according to the most up to date figures for the 2006-07 academic year.

Half of those 102 schools had no A-level entries in any subject.

The Department of Education said some schools with no A-level entries might have had pupils studying equivalent programmes in lower sixth – the statistics show entries only for the final year of study.

In addition, about 20 schools did not enter any pupils for GCSE history.

Academics argue that the subject remains strong in grammar schools and that it is possibly only being ignored by non-grammar school pupils who are choosing instead to focus more on vocational qualifications.

There are concerns the subject may go the same way as the once widespread subjects of Latin and classical Greek.

Katherine Tattersall, head of the examiners’ body the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, said she believed history was in decline because it was no longer compulsory for pupils over 14.


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