The GCE AS and A-level Subject Content for History state that:
- AS and A-level specifications in History must provide sufficient depth and breadth to allow students to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding specified below, and must include a rationale for the specification of topics including periods and/or themes which indicate how the following criteria for content are addressed
- AS and A-level specifications in History must provide a broad and coherent course of study for all students whether they progress to further study in the subject or not
- There are no prior knowledge requirements for AS and A-level specifications in History.
- the history of more than one country or state, including at least one outside the British Isles
- aspects of the past in breadth (through period and/or theme) and in depth
- significant individuals, societies, events, developments and issues within a broad historical context
- developments affecting different groups within the societies studied
- a range of appropriate historical perspectives, for example aesthetic, cultural, economic, ethnic, political, religious, scientific, social or technological.
In addition, A-level specifications must require students to study:
- topics from a chronological range of at least 200 years
- a substantial (a minimum of 20 per cent) and coherent element of British history and/or the history of England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales
- change and/or development over a period of time sufficient to demonstrate understanding of the process of change, both long term (normally at least 100 years) and short term.
Assuring a broad and coherent course of study
The Subject Criteria require that, at AS and A-level, students follow a ‘broad and coherent’ course of study.
The specifications meet these requirements as follows.
- At both AS and A-level, an option from Component 1 and an option from Component 2 must be studied. This must include the history of more than one country or state, including at least one outside the British Isles.
- Coherence of study is achieved across the specification as a whole. Components 1 and 2 have similar perspectives in relation to, for example, the role of elites and the basis of legitimacy of power and decision-making, how the exercise of power changes over time when confronted with opposition, how ideas, social and economic or ideological developments influence and change the exercise of power. Any combination of components therefore, provides for a coherent and interrelated course of study enabling students to understand these perspectives in the context of breadth and depth.
- In addition, the choice of options within the components, irrespective of chronology, will allow students to draw conclusions about and make links in relation to, the various processes of historical change and continuity. The components chosen provide a coherent understanding of how change occurs, how the causes of change interrelate, of degrees of change and continuity and of similarity, difference and significance. The components chosen also provide a coherent understanding of how individuals and groups bring about and react to broader social, economic, religious and cultural changes.
Not all combinations of Component 1 (the Breadth Study) with Component 2 (the Depth Study) ensure that a broad course of study is followed. The combinations which follow will be prohibited because their chronology is limited to predominantly a single century where there is also a strong conceptual emphasis which runs across both breadth and depth options:
- 1C The Tudors with 2C The Reformation in Europe
- 1D Stuart Britain and the Crisis of Monarchy with 2F The Sun King: Louis XIV, France and Europe
In addition, at A-level the Subject Criteria require that students study 'a substantial element of British history' and study topics from a chronological range of at least 200 years.
The specifications meet this requirement as follows:
- at A-level, a student must study a British history option for either Component 1 or Component 2. This meets the requirement to study 'a substantial element of British history'
- at A-level, the option studied for Component 1 covers a period of 100 years. This meets the requirement to study change and/or development over a period of time sufficient to demonstrate understanding of change (normally at least 100 years).
By building on the knowledge of historical processes and perspectives developed in Components 1 and 2, Component 3 will add to overall coherence.
At A-level the issue to be investigated in Component 3 must be placed in the context of approximately 100 years, must not duplicate the content of Components 1 and 2 and must ensure that the three components together cover a chronological range of at least 200 years.
At A-level the requirement to complete a non-exam assessment task within the context of approximately 100 years further broadens the student’s experience.
Component 1: Breadth study
Each Breadth Study requires the study of an extended period and enables students to develop secure understanding of the process of change over time.
Each Breadth Study is introduced by six key questions which identify issues and perspectives which are central to the period of study. They emphasise that the study of breadth requires students to develop an understanding of:
- The nature of causes and consequences, of change and continuity and of similarity and differences over a long period of time
- The links between perspectives, such as political, economic, social or religious as well as appreciating developments relating to the perspectives separately over time
- The role played by individuals, groups, ideas or ideology.
The content for each period of study is set out in chronological sections. An examination question may arise from one or more of these sections of specified content. There is an important interrelationship between the six key questions and the specified content. Study of the content enables students to develop a secure understanding and knowledge of the period. The key questions inform and guide how the content should be studied. This combination of historical content, informed by key questions, seeks to combine ‘periods or themes’ in a manner which is manageable and historically valid. Thus, ‘understanding of the process of change over time’ stems from secure knowledge of shorter periods which enable the development of a broader understanding as the study progresses.
Component 2: Depth study
Each Depth Study is focused on a significant period of historical change or development. Students will gain deep understanding of change and continuity through the study of the interrelationships of a variety of perspectives as indicated in the content. They will develop detailed knowledge and understanding of developments and the roles of individuals, groups, ideas and ideology. Depth Studies also promote an understanding of the complexity of the historical process through a detailed focus on a specific period of change.
Content is presented chronologically in sections as is most appropriate to the period of study. An examination question may arise from one, or more than one, section of specified content. To demonstrate depth of historical knowledge and understanding, students should be able to make links and comparisons between the aspects of the period studied. Therefore it is important that specified content should be studied both in its own right and holistically. In this way links and contrasts will be rooted in secure knowledge and understanding.
Each of the Depth Studies has an introductory commentary, setting out the focus of the study and the key concepts that apply to it. There is a close interrelationship between the commentary and the content that follows which enables students to appreciate the focus of the depth study.
Component 3: Historical investigation – non-exam assessment (A-level only)
Students will be required to identify an issue they wish to study and develop a question from this issue which will be the focus of the Historical Investigation.
To ensure that this represents a substantial study, the issue to be investigated has to be placed in the context of approximately 100 years. It must not duplicate the content studied for Components 1 or 2.
Students may study a specific issue or development in depth, but this must be placed in the context of approximately 100 years, or a broader theme and/or development. Issues which relate to international, national or local developments are appropriate, as are investigations which adopt specific historical perspectives such as cultural, social or technological.
Through undertaking the Historical Investigation, students will develop an enhanced understanding of the nature and purpose of history as a discipline and how historians work. They will broaden their study of the past whilst having the opportunity to study a specific issue in great depth.