By Stephen Jenkins, Head of Politics and Citizenship, Belfast, Northern Ireland
As someone who has been teaching A-Level Politics for twenty years, I wish I had a pound for every occasion in class when I would have liked to have more time to answer a question in depth. It wasn’t the pupils’ fault that there were serious gaps in the foundations of their knowledge of Politics. By the time they landed in their AS History teacher’s class they had studied the subject for five years, ditto French, ditto Spanish, etc. Therefore, whenever and wherever the opportunity arose, I lobbied the local exam board CCEA to introduce a GCSE Politics so that my pupils would have the same bedrock of prior knowledge enjoyed by students of other subjects. It was an easy sell to senior management at my school - the correlation between an extra two years of Politics and improved A2 grades was self-explanatory.
So, in September 2017 our school was one of six that piloted the first ever GCSE Government and Politics. I was delighted to see the emphasis on Politics in the specification*, with sections on ideas and concepts, the media, and taking action in a democracy. Such content made it easier to plan lessons with a participatory element, relevant to the younger students’ lives. The course is tested by two papers, 50% each at the end of Year 11 and Year 12. There are resource packs and fact files on the CCEA website to help you plan lessons. Of particular help is the large planning framework.
Twenty nine pupils enrolled in our first Year 11 Politics class and we were off. After six months, I felt the pupils were ready to meet politicians in the flesh and test what they had learned. We arranged a day at the Northern Ireland Assembly through its ever-helpful Education Service. They constructed a presentation around the new specification. This was followed by a Q&A with MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) from all the parties. It was during that engagement that I knew I had made the right decision in launching the new GCSE in our school. The session was lively and fun. The pupils were confident and articulate. They sat the first module in June and achieved remarkable grades. As that cohort began Year 12 this month, a new group enrolled in Year 11 Politics. I look forward to that day in the near-future when one of those pupils, as an A Level student, asks me a question and I cast their minds back to GCSE Politics to illustrate an answer. It will truly be a case of going back to the future!
*CCEA Government & Politics Microsite: http://ccea.org.uk/government/