Letter: AS/A-level content

April 12, 2001

My colleagues and I wonder whether university history departments are aware of the drastic drop in the knowledge their future students are likely to have with the new AS/A-level syllabus.

Students at my school, where the 16th century is studied, will have just completed, under the old A-level syllabus, political and religious topics on English history from 1450-1625. That takes in the Wars of the Roses, the Tudors, including the English Reformation, and the first of the Stuarts. In addition, they will have studied European topics on Russia 1450-1585, the Ottoman Empire 1450-1600, Spain 1474-1598, the German Reformation 1517-1648) the Dutch revolt 1560-1609 and the Italian wars 1492-1556.

Perhaps they have been over-prepared compared with other schools, but students studying the new syllabus will, by the time they have completed two years of study, have covered only the Wars of the Roses and Henry VII, rebellions against the English crown in the 16th century, Russia 1894-1924 (we have switched to a modern element as a result of forthcoming changes at GCSE), and a topic of their choice for coursework.

The reduction in the number of historical topics covered is not because more time is being spent on them - the timetable allocation for sixth-form lessons has fallen from seven to six periods per week because students are doing four AS levels in their first-year sixth form - but because the structure of the new courses requires only that amount of coverage.

Perhaps universities are aware but are not worried about the change. Does a breadth of historical knowledge before degree level really matter any more? Perhaps we are out of touch, not them? Perhaps a few words from some university history departments would placate our concerns on their behalf?

A. J. Martins
Head of history
Norwich High School

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