Exam boards drop Israel-Palestine from syllabus as schools fight shy of conflict

Mar 28, 2017 by

In 2014 history teacher Michael Davies took a group of his GCSE and A-level students on a field trip to Israel and Palestine. For the first half of the week they immersed themselves in the story of Israel and the tragedy of the Holocaust; for the second they visited the West Bank and played football with boys in a refugee camp. The trip was transformative for the students: “Their minds were wrenched round,” Davies says. “Suddenly they saw that there are two completely different ways of looking at things. That history is constructed and it’s often constructed with a purpose.”

For the students of Lancaster Royal Grammar school their study of the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict has been eye-opening and life-changing. But given trends in exam syllabuses, it’s not an experience many others are likely to share, as the subject quietly slips down the agenda of exam boards.

In 2012 the Curriculum for Cohesion, a research programme based at Soas University of London, made a detailed submission to the national curriculum review. They recommended a unit of study on the Arab-Israeli conflict stretching back to 1896 to assess whether the roots of the hostilities provide a clue to a solution. In their view, students’ opinions on the subject “need to be set in a deep historical perspective and the history classroom gives them the opportunity to scrutinise the issue in depth and from different points of view”.

Yet of the five exam boards for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, three have removed Israel-Palestine from their GCSE offering since 2014. AQA offers a unit on conflict and tension in the Middle East, but it starts in 1990. That leaves Pearson Edexcel with the only historically far-reaching offer of “Conflict in the Middle East 1945-95” – although as Davies points out, in the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration this doesn’t leave much scope for a study of Britain’s role. Exam boards say there is a lack of take up. The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment says only one school out of 170 chose Israel-Palestine as a GCSE option.

Source: Exam boards drop Israel-Palestine from syllabus as schools fight shy of conflict | Education | The Guardian

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