History Podcasts

GCSE Exam Board Resources

GCSE Exam Board Resources

GCSE

Unit 1: Internal Relations: Conflict and Peace in the 20th Century

Unit 2: 20th Century Depth Studies

Unit 3: Historical Enquiry


GCSEs for Home Educators

Home educators can start GCSE courses at any age. Some begin quite young and take just one or two at a time. Others wait until they are 16 and then enrol at a college to take GCSE subjects appropriate to their future careers. Some study for them at home, and some don’t do any GCSEs at all. This kind of flexibility allows full research and study into each subject rather than simply focussing on getting lots of exams. Note that each exam board may have specific requirements. General GCSE books or ‘revision guides’ give an overview of what is likely to be required, but you will need to see past papers, and probably use books required by your chosen board.

GCSEs taken in schools usually include a significant amount of graded ‘coursework’. This consists of projects, essays or other work done during the year which counts towards the final grade in the exam. This is ideal for students who find exams stressful. It can be encouraging to know that they have already achieved twenty to forty percent of the grade. However home educated students sometimes find it harder to manage coursework. This is because an independent person has to mark it. For this reason, some choose the IGCSE (International GCSE) exams which rely entirely on exams. This suits some students, but not others. You can read a lot more about IGCSEs, including information about several specific courses, at the Eddis Tutorial site.

If you are interested in discussing GCSEs, A-levels and alternatives for home educators with others who are on the same path, there’s an active yahoogroup you can join, HE Exams. This has helpful advice for anyone looking for a centre to take exams of any kind, or wanting to know about the different types of GCSE that can be taken by home educators. There is general information, compiled by people from this list and elsewhere, on a new Wiki page about exams for home educators.

It is important that a child takes GCSEs because he or she wants to. Perhaps this is because it will be useful for future education or career options. But it is worthwhile doing as much research as you can. Some A-level courses can be taken without the relevant GCSE, and some vocational courses or careers do not require paper qualifications. There is little point putting a home educated child under pressure to take exams unless it is their own decision.

Ways of doing GCSEs in home education

There are three main ways in which home educated students have taken GCSEs: by correspondence courses where a tutor is usually assigned to give advice and mark work by enrolling at a local college or adult education class or at home doing their own research, choosing appropriate books and buying past exam papers. The latter is only really appropriate for exam-only IGCSEs, unless you can find a suitable independent person qualified to grade coursework.

The advantage of using a correspondence course or enrolling at a college is that a tutor is available. They may be able to help more than a parent, and can grade work. The disadvantage is usually the cost, if your child is under 16. Most colleges offer free or inexpensive courses to those over 16. But they may charge high rates to younger students, if they admit them at all. Some colleges will not admit younger students, particularly if they are popular and likely to be over-subscribed.

Another advantage of a college is that they will often arrange the exam room. With a correspondence course you usually have to organise that yourself. This involves registering your child as an external candidate at a local school or college, at additional cost.

It may be possible to register a child in a school part time with a flexi-schooling option, if the school allows this. Books and tuition will then be provided and you will probably not have to pay an exam fee. If your child is approaching 14 and wants to take several GCSEs, you may want to consider a couple of years in a local school if you can find one which you like. Some home educated children have followed this option and obtained excellent results. This is even if they have had no formal teaching prior to this age.

General help for GCSEs

For general help in most GCSE topics, look at the BBC Education: GCSE help. You may also find some help at the TopMarks site. Select age 15-16 and the subject that interest you to find a list of useful resources.

If you want to see in past papers, you can find a few online, and may be able to buy some at bookshops. For instance, you can find past papers with sample answers for maths at the GCSE maths past papers site. You may need to order others directly from the relevant exam board. Make sure that you check specific requirements for your year and board.

If you are unable to find a local school or college willing to take private candidates, there is a new service available, ‘The Exam House‘, which enables private candidates to take both GCSEs and A-levels. Fees and other information are published on the site.

If you would like to use a paid agency for one or more GCSE or A-level options, you can find some organisations on the GCSE correspondence course page. These offer some distance learning or tuition possibilities for those who prefer outside help with GCSEs. Please read their terms and conditions carefully before making any financial commitment. The styles and resources supplied vary, and may not be suitable for your child.


GCSE History Specification Issue 3

We have made some amendments to the GCSE History specification which apply for first assessment Summer 2022. Issue 3 of the specification is now available to download on the qualification page. This update contains information about the amendments to the specification.

Migration Thematic Study now ready and available!

International GCSE History - Diversity, rights and equality in Britain, 1914-2010

GCSE History Specification Issue 3


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GCSE History

Our GCSE History specification provides a coherent and integrated study of history.

This breadth of the specification offers an opportunity for teachers of history to approach the subject through a variety of options which will lead to a broad, balanced and coherent course.

Build your own exam paper choosing from thousands of past paper questions.

OER is a free interactive teaching and learning tool which includes exam answers and examiner comments.

Important information, past papers, marking schemes, entry/amendment uploads & make post-results enquiries.

Grade boundaries are the minimum number of marks needed to achieve each grade.

Discover FREE Digital Resources!

Unlock your learners’ potential with an impressive range of FREE digital resources, teaching tools and materials.

WJEC/CBAC ENDORSED TITLES

WJEC/CBAC NON-ENDORSED TITLES

Welcome to the WJEC’s Online Exam Review website. Here you will find a collection of interactive units that bring together a number of elements including general data, exam questions, their marking schemes and examiner comments, which will lead you through a review of exam questions.

There are no events currently scheduled for this qualification.

Our annual programme is published and open for bookings during the summer term. Sign up for the latest updates here.

Materials from previous courses can be found on the Secure website and/or under the Materials tab.


GCSE History

Our GCSE History specification provides a coherent and integrated study of history.

This breadth of the specification offers an opportunity for teachers of history to approach the subject through a variety of options which will lead to a broad, balanced and coherent course.

Build your own exam paper choosing from thousands of past paper questions.

OER is a free interactive teaching and learning tool which includes exam answers and examiner comments.

Important information, past papers, marking schemes, entry/amendment uploads & make post-results enquiries.

Grade boundaries are the minimum number of marks needed to achieve each grade.

Discover FREE Digital Resources!

Unlock your learners’ potential with an impressive range of FREE digital resources, teaching tools and materials.

WJEC/CBAC ENDORSED TITLES

WJEC/CBAC NON-ENDORSED TITLES

Welcome to the WJEC’s Online Exam Review website. Here you will find a collection of interactive units that bring together a number of elements including general data, exam questions, their marking schemes and examiner comments, which will lead you through a review of exam questions.

There are no events currently scheduled for this qualification.

Our annual programme is published and open for bookings during the summer term. Sign up for the latest updates here.

Materials from previous courses can be found on the Secure website and/or under the Materials tab.


20 successful GCSE history teaching strategies

The thing that all of us involved in GCSE history teaching are under pressure to achieve is to make sure that each and every one of our students gets a good grade.

We are teaching in a data driven world – the so-called “standards agenda”. Our leaders used to be obsessed with the headline A*-C figure. It is now also all about how much progress our students make: 3 levels, 4 levels, 5 levels…

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need to ensure that all of the kids we teach do the best they can. But somewhere many school leaders have forgotten the most important thing.

For this to happen we need to teach them well. And for this to happen (sorry for the repetition) we the time to think and plan for this. Looking at data only tells us what the issues are!

To make matters worse, heads of department/subject leaders have to regularly run the gauntlet of a data review where line managers look at lists of letters and numbers that represent real people and ask difficult questions about them. Behind each number is a person, we forget this at our peril.

The big question is: how on earth do we help our students do well at GCSE?

The first thing to remember is that history is a harder GCSE than many others – and with the recent changes and more changes to come, it is only going to get harder. If you don’t believe me, researchers at Durham University a few years ago ranked subjects in order of difficulty at GCSE level. Here is how they were ranked, most difficult at the top:

  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Spanish
  • German
  • French
  • History
  • Double Science
  • Geography
  • ICT
  • Single Science
  • Maths
  • RS
  • Business Studies
  • English literature
  • Sociology
  • Media
  • PE
  • Drama

As you can see, true Sciences (which are rarely taught in secondary schools individually) were the most difficult. Then languages, then history! If you notice English and Maths are much further down the list. It must be noted that this research was from 2006 and things have changed since then. However, few would agree that history has got any easier in that period!

In our opinion GCSE history teaching is harder for a number of reasons:

  • Pupils have to remember much more information without prompts.
  • They have to do more with the information, including more analysis, evaluation and explanation.
  • There has never been a tiered paper.
  • There is more extended writing than nearly any other subject.

So, to succeed at GCSE your kids have to think at a higher level, write analytically and with developed explanation, recall more information and do more with this information than a number of so called other subjects (English and RE).


Please don’t ask year 7 to answer GCSE exam questions

Recently I arranged for Michael Riley to come and work with my initial teacher trainees and their mentors at Sussex University.

After all, it was Michael alongside Jamie Byrom who inspired me to teach history the way that I have been for the last 18 years.

A visit to the brilliant SHP conference way back in 1999 saw me attend workshops led by two of the authors of the textbook: Changing Minds, which I had just invested in at school. This textbook was having a really positive impact on my classes so I guessed the authors must know a thing or two.

I remember being blown away by both of these SHP sessions and this enquiry based approach. I had been teaching for just three years and this was the light bulb moment for me. I really saw how I should be planning and teaching history.

This was how to help students join up their thinking and write coherently.

Teaching through enquiry questions that help combined and fuse substantive and disciplinary knowledge are the bedrock of my practice. Success in the classroom over many years have proven to me that this approach works.

Listening again to Michael support and challenge 50 teachers in our thinking recently was fantastic. It was a great day which was thoughtfully planned and inspirationally delivered.

Year 7 and exam questions

The first activity Michael asked us to complete was to mark a year 7 students’ essay. This was the first essay ‘Samantha’ had written in her secondary school history career. The question set was, ‘How healthy were the Romans?’ Michael asked us to work in pairs thinking in silence before sharing our thoughts about the piece of extended writing in front of us.

Having spent years and years marking such answers (albeit to clearer and more rigorous enquiry questions – but that was the point of the activity) I looked at the response in front of me. Bearing in mind this was a less able student, and that this was her first attempt at extended writing in a history classroom in secondary school, I thought it her response was pretty good. Many of the points were substantiated, the spelling was pretty good, especially the ‘history’ words. She had written in paragraphs.

OK, the conclusion contradicted the argument that had been put forward in the rest of the answer. And, fair enough, the evidence used to substantiate some of the points was clearly anachronistic. Nevertheless, I was encouraged by Samantha’s first essay attempt.

However, when I turned to my partner to discuss this written piece, an experienced teacher, I must say I was shocked. The response was quite scathing of Samantha’s work : The answer was weak as it was not enough like a GCSE answer. Where was the GCSE structure? Surely this is what year 7 must do? I must admit I was quite taken aback.

Why on earth would young Samantha know how to write a GCSE style answer? The question set was not a GCSE style question. And more worryingly why would any history teacher want an 11-year-old to write in such a style?

Surely history education should be about more than answering and practicing exam questions for five years.

Surely, we would want to instil a love of learning in the children in front of us?

We want to spark a keen interest in the subject we love.

We want children to go on to have a passion for history throughout their lives.

We want them to visit museums, to be able to look up from the street and spot the Georgian architecture, to be able to tell their parents that evening the fun and gory stories they learnt in history today. After all, these children a few months ago were still at primary school.

Depressingly, in the whole group feedback, another teacher (again not a trainee of mine thankfully), made exactly the same point as my ‘talk partner’. The written answer in front of us needed to be more GCSE like. ARRGHHHH. NO! NO! NO!

We can be much smarter than that.If you need some inspiration on what to get your students to do at the end of an enquiry other than turgid GCSE answers, try these ideas.

A love of learning at Key Stage 3

Where has this poor thinking about teaching history at Key Stage 3 teaching come from? Why do young teachers think it is important to drill children from the age of 11 how to structure a reductive GCSE style essay response?

There is so much more to history teaching than GCSE. Some argue, including Daisy Christodoulou in her recent book: Making Good Progress?, that this kind of approach will not even work to drive up results, and in my opinion it won’t work to engage and inspire either. But then again, nor will spending every other lesson simply reading out from ‘the’ textbook – but that is another story.

Key Stage 3 is the only place where secondary school practitioners are freed from the shackles of examination specification and assessment materials. This is where we can really think about what good history actually is. This is where we can really consider what getting better at history actually means. And we can plan for this.

At Key Stage 3 we can teach historical rigorous enquiries that analyse art, that arm our students with precise historical knowledge that will allow them to criticise what is written by so called experts in textbooks and write to these authors pointing out the inconsistencies, flaws in writing styles and mistakes in their work.

At Key Stage 3 we can really look at real historians up close. We can listen to what Simon Schama says about art or A History of Britain and we can make meaning of their words. We can get our charges to see if they agree with the well-dressed articulate man they have just listened to.

We can re-enact the Battle of Hastings to help establish and embed the narrative of this wonderful story.

We can listen to the stories of extraordinary individuals or have lived so called ordinary lives and use these stories to help paint the bigger and more general picture of history.

There is so much scope to teach rigorous, enquiry based, engaging and thoughtful history to 11-14 year olds, that, if we get it right, will help their progress accelerate at GCSE because they really have been taught history well – without a GCSE style answer in sight. This is because arming students with the knowledge and skills (sorry to those who cannot use the ‘skills’ word – what I meant was substantive and disciplinary knowledge) they need to get better at history is the path to improvement. Answering exam style questions in year 7, is not.

So, please don’t get year 7 to answer exam questions. Even if your SLT have replaced levels with GCSE style accountability scales. They should know better but are searching for data that doesn’t exist.

Lets make our students love history not loathe it.

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The Rise and Fall of the GCSE: A Class History

Photograph copyright Keith Morris/Alamy, via the Guardian and used for illustrative purposes only. Image from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/apr/02/michael-gove-universities-a-level-examinations

Public examinations were introduced in the mid-nineteenth century following requests from independent and grammar schools for Oxford and Cambridge to set a junior examination for sixteen year olds and a senior examination for eighteen year olds. Gowned ‘presiding examiners’ arrived with sealed boxes at schools and church halls across the land. The exams which were sat by only a tiny minority of the population, largely tested candidates’ memories: names of monarchs, dates of battles, biblical verses, scientific facts (1). Arguments about the validity of grades go back a long way: in 1872 one headteacher wrote to The Times complaining that the Cambridge exams were easier than the Oxford ones (2).

From 1918 the Oxford and Cambridge examinations were replaced by a School Certificate to be taken at sixteen and a Higher School Certificate at eighteen. The School Certificate required pupils to pass a group of subjects to obtain a certificate. At this time, most pupils remained at elementary school after age eleven and left school at fourteen without any formal qualifications. Even when working-class children passed the ‘scholarship’ tests (a limited precursor to the 11+ the local authority paid the secondary school fees of those who passed), their parents often couldn’t afford the uniform.

The Norwood Committee on curriculum and examinations in secondary schools during the Second World War discussed the extension of secondary education, which would involve changes in the exam system. The advantages and disadvantages of public exams were well understood. The Norwood Report (1943) summarises arguments offered for and against: exams are said to motivate pupils, provide teachers with a syllabus and give an objective measure of achievement, but it was also argued that they dictate the curriculum, invite children to view education simply as passing exams, encourage cramming and uniformity, and neglect the knowledge teachers acquire of the pupils in their class over time. The committee recommended that the School Certificate be replaced by separate subject exams, and, that after a transitional period, the exams should be set internally in schools by the teachers. With the exception of the CSE Mode 3 (described below), this ‘transitional period’ never gave way to the practice of internally set examinations. In contrast, teachers across much of Germany set the pre-university Abitur until recently (3).

After the war, as a result of the 1944 Education Act, all pupils received secondary education, but in different types of schools according to their results in the 11+ tests. For many years the vast majority, attending secondary modern schools, left before the age of sixteen without any formal qualifications. The new General Certificate of Education O (‘ordinary’)-level was almost exclusively taken by pupils attending grammar schools. However, in the early stages of the long campaign for comprehensive schools, some pupils who had failed the 11+ and had gone to secondary moderns were entered for the O-level and passed (4).

Those who believe that standards of education were higher in some previous Golden Age should look at the examination statistics. In 1972, 43% left school with no qualifications at all (2). Now it is less than 1%. Some argue that this means that the exams have become easier to pass but it is hard to deny that the education of the 42%, who under the old system achieved no qualifications and now get some, has improved. In 1960, in a divided system, only 20% went to grammar school. The rest were more or less written off. In fact only 16% of sixteen year olds achieved five O-level passes (5). In 2011 53% of pupils in the state sector achieved five or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and maths. Including ‘equivalents’ to GCSE (see below) it was 59%.

The lack of credentials for the vast majority of young people led to the introduction of the CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) in the early 1960s. This had six grades, with grade one being the equivalent of O-level. One of the great innovations of the CSE was ‘Mode 3’, an arrangement whereby schools could design their own syllabus and assessments and have them approved by the regional board. The grading was carried out by the school but verified by external moderators responsible to the board. This proved very popular at a time when curriculum innovation flourished, partly in response to the raising of the school leaving age to sixteen in the early 1970s.

Once comprehensive schools had become the norm, the GCE Joint Matriculation Board, serving the North and Midlands, began to collaborate with CSE Boards to set joint exam papers called the 16+ according to their results, candidates were awarded two certificates, a CSE grade and an O-level grade.

The increasing overlap between GCE and CSE examinations increased the pressure from comprehensive school campaigners. In 1979 Labour education minister Shirley Williams proposed a merger of the two systems, and subsequently Conservative education minister Keith Joseph approved the GCSE to replace both O-levels and CSE.

Grades A-C of the new GCSE equated with the former GCE O-level (or grade one CSE), and D-G with CSE grades 2-6. When it was introduced, however, it was assumed that around 40% of pupils would continue to leave school without a certificate. Now hardly anyone does.

Achievement at GCSE has progressively risen. In 1988, its first year, 42% of entries were awarded A*-Cs, including 8% A-grades. By 2011, 69% were awarded A*-Cs, including 22% A or A*. This inevitably led to claims of ‘grade inflation’, or accusations that the exams were getting easier. One argument which seems valid is that competition between the commercially-run exam boards causes a downward pressure, as the boards fight each other to gain more schools as customers. (Scotland, with its single examination board, has seen little change in the past decade in the proportion awarded particular grades.)

Meanwhile, a declining position in the OECD’s comparison of achievement at age fifteen (PISA) from 2000 to 2009 presented incoming Conservative education minister Michael Gove with a problem – though probably one that regarded as an opportunity. The PISA international assessments of reading, mathematics and science, based on tests sat by a sample of schools in each country, use test items which require more holistic and to some extent critical understanding and the ability to relate school knowledge to the wider world. PISA requires a quality of thinking that cannot flourish in a school system based on top-down surveillance and endless cramming. Gove immediately declared his intention to abolish most vocational qualifications. The grade criteria for GCSE English were toughened up in 2012, causing an outcry and major legal challenge. Most critical however is the recent decision to abolish the GCSE altogether from 2015 (8). It is difficult to see how any of these measures will improve young people’s ability to think, though they could deny many young people credentials important for their future employment.

GCSEs will be replaced by an English Baccalaureate (a shadow one has been in operation since 2011). The content of this qualification is not yet fully clear, but it appears that, like the 1930s School Certificate, pupils will only be awarded the qualification if they pass the full set of subjects. They will sit papers in English language, English literature, pure maths, applied maths, physics, chemistry and biology, and also a foreign language and a choice of history or geography from the second year of this new qualification.

The pass mark will be higher than the current grade C, so it appears likely that only around 30 or 40% of the age group will achieve the Ebacc. For the rest: nothing, apart from a record of achievement from their own school.

Various conclusions might be drawn from this.

One is that the new Ebacc will be required for entry to university, and thus serve as a means to lower student numbers, adding to the damage caused by raising fees.

A second, in the context of 25% of under twenty-five year olds without employment (and nearly double that level in Greece and Spain), is that organisations representing UK employers perhaps no longer sees a need for large numbers of well-qualified school leavers. An end to the rhetoric about meeting the needs of a ‘knowledge economy’! (It was always suspect, since a large proportion of young people would end up sweeping the floor and serving table.) Why would you want millions of angry disappointed young people wandering the streets?

A third possible conclusion is that making examinations harder services the government policy of privatising all schools: schools have to be labelled failures in order to force them into closure and replacement by academies. Already more than half of secondary schools have been turned into academies (including some ‘free schools’). The government clearly aims to finish the job, and primary schools are next in line.

In this scenario, the replacement of GCSEs with a tough new Ebacc aligns with Gove’s proposed primary curriculum that places impossible demands on pupils. Life will be one long list of spellings, bearing no relationship to (most) children’s experience: the list for seven/eight year olds includes enclosure, nobly, frantically, inflation, reign, professor and piteous – not to mention chauffeur and champagne! (9) Gove is also captivated by Hirsch’s ‘core knowledge’ curriculum, an American academic’s attempt to list the general knowledge that he believes every educated adult ought to have. The English version, produced by right-wing think tank Civitas, expects five/six year olds to know that Charles I believed in the divine right of kings, the Glorious Revolution took place in 1688, and Robert Walpole became the first prime minister (10). Clearly he is setting up primary schools to fail.

Curriculum expert Michael Apple (11) has written about the fusion of neoliberalism and neoconservatism in US education policy. The English variant appears to be a unique blend of neoliberalism with a kind of retro-conservatism, the latter serving the former. These education reforms could be written off as the nightmares of a deluded traditionalist, but they might also match a Conservative dream of future dystopia.

Terry Wrigley, University of Edinburgh, is a visiting Professor at Leeds Metropolitan University and editor of the journal Improving Schools.


Create A History Revision Timetable

Don't get surprised by your exam deadline and the amount of history work you'll have to get through. Plan your history revision sessions in a simple but clear revision timetable. This will help you break down the large amount of history content into manageable chunks so that you plan your normal life more easily around these revision sessions. You can create you timetable just on a piece of paper or use use online tools such as the Revision TimeTable Maker from The Student Room.


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