History Resource Cupboard – lessons and resources for schools

History Resource Cupboard - lessons and resources for schools

Teaching Issues

Review of AQA and OCR/A proposed new History GCSE specifications for 2016

Having spent time last week looking at the proposed GCSE specifications and assessment materials for OCR/SHP and Edexcel, here I repeat the exercise for the AQA and OCR /A courses. Whilst reading the materials and quaffing tea,  I was attempting to  look at the proposals through a number of lenses:

  • how interesting / exciting / balanced are the courses?
  • How much work would there be in resourcing them?
  • How accessible are the questions?

So, read on for  my thoughts and ramblings.


This is divided into 4 equal sections and they are proposing just 2 exams which is less than all other exam boards.

You have to choose one topic from each column below:

Paper 1 A 25% Paper 1  B 25% Paper 2  A 25% Paper 2  B 25%
  • America 1840-1895
  • Germany 1890 -1945
  • Russia 1894-1945
  • America 1920-1973
  • Conflict and tension 1894-1918
  • Conflict and tension 1918-39
  • Conflict between East and West 1945-72
  • Conflict in Asia 1950-75
  • Conflict and tension 1990-2009
  • Britain – Health and the people
  • Britain – Power and the people
  • Britain – migration, empires and the people
  • Norman England 1066 – 1100 with environment
  • Medieval England in the reign of Edward I 1272 -1307 with environment
  • Elizabethan England 1568 – 1603 with environment
  • Restoration England 1660 -1685 with environment



So as you can see, if you like your Modern World course, you could feel at home here with the paper 1 options. Obviously you will have to stretch your knowledge a little if you choose Germany or Russia and go back into the last decade of the 20th century.  If it is choice you need here you could go for Conflict in Asia.

For paper 2 the new thematic studies of power or migration could be really interesting. If you want the comfort blanket of available resources, Health and the People is the obvious choice, especially for those SHPers out there. Personally, I think it is a shame there is no crime and punishment unit on offer here.

There are also new options for the British depth study too.  They have linked the British unit with the environment and are proposing it changes each year, which hinders getting your students out on site.  If they propose looking at Corfe Castle in Dorset and your school is in Cumbria then this is a no go. The time periods for the Depth studies are slightly different to Edexcel. For example the Norman unit here is 1066-1100, but on the Edexcel proposals it goes from 1060 to 1088.

This is a good pragmatic GCSE if you want resources that are already available or units that you have taught before. If you wanted a very power / politics GCSE you could easily make this the choice for you, or look at OCR/A below. But if you wanted to temper all of that politics with more social history, take the health or migration units.

When it comes to exam questions, these all look really approachable and accessible. There are no questions that scare me. They are all very traditional: source utility, describe questions, why do these sources differ, explain and judgement questions.

They approach interpretations questions in a simple and maybe slightly traditional way, but unlike the OCR/SHP interps. questions, this does make the exam more accessible to me. For example, ‘How does interpretation 1 differ from interpretation 2 about X? 4 marks

OCR/A Explaining the Modern World

Last, but by no means least is the OCR /A option. This is very much Modern World than OCR’s SHP offering. Like AQA this appears to be divided into four different units. It has three exams Paper 1 is worth 50%, Papers 2 and 3 25% each. You have to choose one option from each column, but your thematic study is then linked with your choice of British depth study.

Paper 1 Period Study 25% Paper 1Non British Study25% Paper 2Thematic study25% Paper 3British Depth   Linked to environment 25%
International relations 1918-2014
  • China 1950–1981: The People and the State
  • Germany 1925–1955:The People and the State
  • Poland 1956–1990: The People and the State
  • Russia 1928–1964: The People and the State
  • South Africa 1960–1994: The People and the State
  • The USA 1919–1948: The People and the State
  • The USA 1945–1974: The People and the State
  • Migration to Britain c.1000 to c.2010 (1)
  • Power: Monarchy and Democracy c.1000 to 2014(2)
  • War and British Society c.790 to c.2010 (3)
  • Migration and Empire 1688–c.1730 with Urban Environments: Patterns of Migration (1)
  • The English Reformation c.1520–c.1550 with Castles: Form and Function c.1000–1700 (2)
  • Personal Rule to Restoration 1629–1660 with Castles: Form and Function c.1000–1700 (3)

There is kind of more choice but less choice with this course. There is more choice with the non British study, as long as you love your 20th century history. But there is kind of less choice as once you choose your thematic study you are tied into your British Depth study which links with your environment study. So if you take Migration through time you have to take Migration and Empire and Urban Environments. This could be a curse to some or a blessing to others who like to be told what to do and get on with it! I also reckon this a textbook authors delight as they can write sell two books instead of just one!

This is definitely the  course for you if you like your kids to learn about power and politics. To my mind this is the most political of all the GCSE offerings. You could teach International Relations 1918-2014, Russia 1924-54, Power Through Time and then the English Reformation.

If you wanted to temper this with some social history then the only option here is the migration thematic unit. Again, shame there is no crime thematic study.

For Paper 1 there are lots of resources already out there, although the non British units cover different time periods to now. Germany runs from 1925-55…

The environmental sites are already listed  and change each year, urban sites for migration, castles around the country for the other 2 depth studies.

The exam questions seem fine, describe questions, utility questions, why was this source published questions. Some of the questions do seem to be worth an awful lot of marks 20 for one 25 for another and 24 for another. So this could be quite difficult for the less able.The interpretations questions are ok, maybe a little challenging – these are the questions that are worth 25 and 20 marks! However, they are straight forward enough: ‘Explain why not all historians and commentators have agreed with this interpretation…’


If you like your history power / politics focused then OCR Explaining the Modern World is for you. If you are unsure what options to take this is also the way to go as once you decide on your thematic study you are tied into British depth study.

If you want a little more choice but to remain pragmatic then AQA is the way to go. They are offering a good mix between old style SHP and Modern World, with the newer British depth studies to add spice.  It is also notable that at the moment, this is only exam board proposing two rather than three final exams.

Remember: all of the proposals are only draft at the moment and it depends what Ofqual think of them. If there is lots of change, I will blog again reviewing the final offerings.


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