New AQA History GCSE takes students from Magna Carta to War on Terror

Published: Thursday 26 Mar 2015

A new History GCSE from exam board AQA - featuring a broader range of periods and topics - aims to use the past to give students a better understanding of today's world.

For the first time, topics including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the effects of centuries of migration on the UK will be available to teach alongside familiar content such as Elizabethan England, the World Wars and 20th century America.

The redesigned course – which will be introduced in 2016 – tracks the events that have shaped Britain and the rest of the world, covering more than a thousand years of history and exploring major issues including conflict and social change.

Students will learn about British history for at least 40% of the new GCSE course. In addition to historic periods ranging from Norman to Restoration England, the AQA course includes three options for studying themes that have shaped the nation over many centuries: the relationship and struggles between citizens and the state; Britain's changing national identity and the development of public health.

The course also includes a new section on the Historic Environment, where students learn about the role of a specific UK location in history. This will enable them to study sites like St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, Longleat House and Conwy Castle.

Mike Charman, who heads AQA's History team, said: "History should help young people understand the world we live in today as well as the past. Topics like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a huge impact on today's news agenda and will continue to influence our lives for years to come.

"But of course students need to know about the more distant past too, so we're continuing to offer a wide range of topics already popular with students and teachers - ranging from medieval and early modern times to the First and Second World Wars. We also know that, with the changes to GCSEs, schools value an element of continuity as well as innovation – and giving them all the support and resources they need to teach this new qualification is a crucial part of our approach.

"The study of specific sites in the new Historic Environment section is an important development. While we won't make it compulsory to visit any of them, many schools and colleges will have sites close by and we're sure they'll find it a great way to bring the topic to life."

The plans for the GCSE, which will be available to teach from September 2016, are being submitted to the regulator Ofqual for accreditation.

The course

Students will do:

  • one period study
  • one wider world depth study
  • one thematic study
  • one British depth study (including the Historic Environment)


Assessment 1: Understanding the modern world

Section A: Period studies

Choose one of the following options:

  • America, 1840–1895: Expansion and consolidation
  • Germany, 1890–1945: Democracy and dictatorship
  • Russia, 1894–1945: Tsardom and communism
  • America, 1920–1973: Opportunity and inequality

Section B: Wider world depth studies

Choose one of the following options:

  • Conflict and tension, 1894–1918
  • Conflict and tension, 1918–1939
  • Conflict and tension between East and West, 1945–1972
  • Conflict and tension in Asia, 1950–1975
  • Conflict and tension, 1990–2009

Assessment 2: Shaping the nation

Section A: Thematic studies

Choose one of the following options:

  • Britain: health and the people
  • Britain: power and the people
  • Britain: migration, empires and the people

Section B: British depth studies (including historical environment)

Choose one of the following options:

  • Norman England, 1066–c1100
  • Medieval England: the reign of Edward I, 1272–1307
  • Elizabethan England, c1568–1603
  • Restoration England, 1660-1685

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