McMahon, Patrick J. (2008) 'The opportunity to study History': curriculum politics and school pupils' subject choice in the General Certificate of Secondary Education. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This study investigates (a) the existence of changes in pupils' perceptions of Key Stage 3 (KS3)
History as they move from Year 8 (Y8) to Year 9 (Y9), when they make choices about which
subjects they will study for General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) during Key
Stage 4 (KS4), and (b) whether any changes might influence their choices. The study adopts a
qualitative approach involving 500 pupils and more than 60 teachers in 10 schools over two
years. The place and usage of History in contemporary society are explored. The origins of
History as a educational issue are reviewed from the late 18th Century to the late 20th Century
when there was considerable debate as to what information should be taught, what skills should
be developed and which teaching methodologies should be employed. These aspects were at
times polarised when 'traditional' teaching seemed to be at odds with the 'new' Schools Council
History Project, against a background of an evolving national examination system. With the
compulsory inclusion of Citizenship within schools' curricula, the role and methodology of
History are subject to further debate. The origins of the current situation, where school History
is a non-compulsory subject in the compulsory state-maintained sector, is outlined with
reference to issues and debates which led to comprehensive schools delivering History as an
element of the National Curriculum as initially presented in the Education Reform Act (ERA)
of 1988, which has since been subject to review and amendment. The study deals with the
introduction, implementation and development of the ERA (1987 –2000) and focuses on the
proposals for the subject of History, responses from teachers, administrators and Government
as well as amendments proposed by the Dearing reviews leading towards Curriculum 2000.
The background to the current GCSE examination scheme is reviewed along with the
requirements for compulsory and non-compulsory subjects, and the rationales employed by
individual schools when constructing ‘GCSE option choice schemes’. Factors that may affect
pupils’ perceptions of History in their Y8 and Y9 are discussed. The sets of data collected
reveal ways in which pupils may be influenced by (i) personal perceptions of interest,
enjoyment, demands of work and usefulness in later life and (ii) externally-controlled issues
such as socio-economic circumstances, access to Special Educational Needs (SEN) or language
support, and the nature of the KS3 History curriculum they experience


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