Commentary - seven minute read
Mike Goddard, OCR History Subject Advisor
February is LGBT+ history month, and an appropriate time to reflect on the opportunities to teach LGBT+ themes in the history curriculum.
Over the last few years we’ve occasionally been contacted by students who have challenged us on the absence of LGBT+ history in the exam courses they’re taking. They’re right to do so, and we love receiving those emails. They show an engaged and passionate student body that cares about the history they’re taught. And that has to be good for the subject.
It’s probably no surprise that LGBT+ histories are still under-represented in most exam courses. However, there have been some steps in the right direction. Here at OCR we were proud to be the first exam board to include the Stonewall Riots in our specification, and in fact our History A GCSE remains the only one to include them. In the 2019 exam series we set a question on their consequences. But that’s a small step and also requires teachers to choose the relevant option.
Perhaps of more potential significance is our GCSE History B, which was written in exclusive partnership with the Schools History Project. One of their eight guiding principles centres on diversity. Consequently, there are opportunities throughout the specification to bring in stories, events, and examples that have perhaps not previously received much attention. Certainly this could – and often should – include examples from LGBT+ history.
For example, the Crime and Punishment theme requires the study of values, attitudes and beliefs as an influencing factor – changing attitudes and legislation regarding homosexuality can usefully be brought in to address this. Equally, there is space in the Living Under Nazi Rule topic to bring in discussion of the Nazis’ persecution of LGBT people.
Overall though, we recognise that as an exam board we need to do more to promote and encourage LGBT+ related content, to give teachers the confidence to bring it into their lessons.
It is probably at A Level where the most interesting progress has been made, and this has been through coursework. Our coursework is simply a 3-4000 word investigation into a topic of the student’s own choice, and this could well be an area of history that they students haven’t been taught before or that they have a passion for. Our specification suggests that LGBT+ history questions may be one such area.
Consequently we’ve seen some great projects over the last few years on LGBT+ history from different periods and countries.
Some have looked at long-term trends, for example:
Assess the reasons for the changing legal status of homosexuality in Britain 1835-1965.
Others have looked at more recent history:
How far was equality for homosexual people in Britain advanced between 1967 and 2014?
Another approach has been to look more in depth at particular events – the Stonewall riots (perhaps even picking up on content they’d been taught at GCSE), for example, or the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. It’s not uncommon for popular or significant films or TV series to result in an increase in related coursework titles; it’ll be interesting to see if Russell T Davies’ recent It’s a Sin has that effect.
Nineteenth century, and earlier, questions, have also been submitted. Perhaps a more traditional or established question at A Level, though no less interesting, which we’ve seen various forms of is:
Assess the significance of homosexuality for Ancient Greek Society.
The A Level Subject Content states that cultural history can be studied, and this can work well as a basis for LGBT+ themed questions. For example, this title, which we approved a couple of years ago:
To what extent was the film industry responsible for acquisition of rights for the LBGTQ community?
The opportunities are endless. And we’re always interested in hearing from historians or teachers with suggestions for suitable areas of research.
I’d like to end this blog with some reflections as a parent rather than as an exam board subject advisor. My daughter is in year 9, and I’m delighted that just this month she’s chosen History as one of her GCSE subjects. But it is figures like Alan Turing (actually himself a subject of several recent A Level coursework titles) that have inspired her interest – and less so the term spent on Norman castles. At that point it is probably fair to say that her choosing to continue studying history into Key Stage 4 was a pretty remote prospect. That is not in any way a criticism of her teachers! She’s lucky to have excellent history teachers, and of course those Norman castles will have fired many other students’ passion (I would have been one of them). But it does show the need to have diverse and inclusive curricula overall, so that everyone can see that history is for and about them. We’ve made some progress towards that in the area of LGBT+ history at GCSE and A Level, but there is a long way still to go.
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Mike is a history subject advisor and has worked at OCR on the history portfolio since 2007. Previously he has held roles at Cambridge International Examinations and for an educational publisher. Mike has a degree in Economic and Social History from the University of York and a Masters in Modern History from UCL. In his spare time he enjoys crosswords and snooker.