Answer: it’s a big change.
You may want to look at the outline for the new GCSE History from the DfE here before reading this post. Some of it is quite complicated and allows exam boards quite a lot of scope to structure the course in different ways.
Over the last few years GCSE History courses have got narrower and narrower. I have worked in two schools (one of which offered two GCSE courses) and these are what we did.
All of these were with one board (OCR) but I think the range of options on other boards are very similar. Of the Modern World and SHP specifications, I always preferred the Modern World, not because I am particularly tied to the period or places studied, but rather because it offered the opportunity to create a coherent package where the different components of the course linked well together. I never liked the SHP course because the individual parts did not connect to the whole: in principle the thematic study provides context, but in reality it does not.
I am going to assume that my experience of GCSE teaching is typical: there is only so much flexibility available within the specifications. Based on this, how big a change will the new GCSE be? Although boards are welcome to structure their courses as they see fit, I think it is fairly likely that we shall see an end to the Modern World and SHP distinction. The Modern World course is no longer tenable under the new regulations as pupils must study at least one pre-modern period and must study a thematic course that covers the middle ages through to the modern period.
Modern World teachers take note: your course is dead. Although you are likely to be able to use one of your existing units (Germany 1900-1950 would be permissible, for example) as part of your new course, the rest is going to be completely new. New textbooks, new resources, new lessons. I think it is safe to say that 2016 is going to be a very difficult year for you.
SHP teachers might be feeling a little more confident. It is possible, for example, that the History of Medicine or Crime and Punishment might remain as thematic studies, though I would not count on this. If you teach a study of the historic environment and a modern depth study (such as Germany or the American West) then boards might offer these as options. If so, then, at best, you might get away with having to plan only one new (British) unit on a medieval or early modern period.
I have to admit this bothers me enormously. Of the two courses, the more coherent package – that is, Modern World – is dead. The package which never felt like it hung together – SHP – might well emerge with minimal changes, or at least the option of minimal changes. I know some teachers very much like Medicine Through Time, but it always felt to me like a trawl through some stuff that happened without a particularly powerful narrative thread running through it. I would not be upset (though I know some teachers would be) if we levelled the playing field a little by scrapping completely the existing SHP thematic studies and started from scratch.
So now we wait. Over the next year I suspect we shall start to see new specifications emerging from the boards. Everyone is going to have a great deal of work to do, though SHP teachers might get off more lightly. I have three top tips for making your choices when the new specifications come out.
- Take a five-year view, and integrate your GCSE with your KS3. I wrote about this here.
- Resist choosing options just because you have resources and textbooks, Better to muddle by with scraped together resources for a year than spend five years teaching an incoherent course.
- Get your CPD in early. I wrote about CPD last year in this post. Now is the time to brush up on your medieval and early-modern history!