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Proper History and Sixth-Form History

Martin Roberts regrets lost opportunities in the recent reform of A-level syllabuses

The government’s recent ‘No-one forgets a good teacher’ campaign has had celebrities reminiscing about their best teacher. More often than not that teacher had taught them in the sixth-form. This is not surprising. Sixth-formers are intelligent people maturing rapidly from adolescence into adulthood. They are studying subjects of their choice. Their minds are as sharp and lively as they will ever be. Most will have the youthful enthusiasm to grapple with the major issues of their chosen subjects. The teachers whom they are least likely to forget are those who, through their own enthusiasm and skills, lead them into new intellectual territory, a landscape both of sweeping vistas and mysterious problematic regions. My own studies in the sixth form were the most stimulating of my life. Will that be the experience of the next generation? It certainly should be, but I fear that it will not.

It should be, because there has recently been the most radical reform in fifty years of the curriculum. Its aim has been to broaden and update the old syllabuses. It offered a wonderful opportunity for university and school teachers to come together to create new courses which sustained the best of past A-level syllabuses but added elements and perspectives more appropriate to the twenty-first century.

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