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From Battle of Hastings to War on Terror: Why GCSE History needs a wider lens

27/04/2015 10:33 BST | Updated 24/06/2015 10:59 BST

It's often said that, to understand where you're going, you need to understand where you've come from.

When it comes to GCSE History, that's always meant topics like Elizabethan England, the two World Wars and the Russian Revolution. But, to make sense of the world we live in today, why shouldn't students also learn about more recent events?

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might seem more like current affairs - but the fact that they affect our lives today, and will continue to do so for years to come, has earned them their place in the classroom.

Studying a wide range of topics and periods - including recent ones like these - helps our young people to better understand the world around them and broaden their horizons. The ideal GCSE History course should take students on a journey from the distant past to recent news, because all these points in time contribute to where we are now.

But History shouldn't just teach our young people about episodes and eras.

Learning from the themes that run across the centuries is vital too. Studying the issues that were as relevant in Norman times as they are now provides vital context for what's happening today, and what will happen tomorrow, next week and in five years' time.

There are many such threads. Migration to and from the UK is one, inextricably connected with the way in with our country has interacted with the rest of the world - from the Norman conquest at the start of the last millennium, right up to the present day.

The relationship (and often the struggles) between the British people and the state is another such thread - from the Magna Carta and Pilgrimage of Grace, through to women's suffrage and the miners' strike.

It's only when we take this kind of step back that we can really understand that our current times - so often described as 'turbulent' - are just the latest chapter in a story that started a very long time ago.

That's not to say that there's no longer a place on the GCSE History course for popular, traditional topics like those World Wars, though. Far from it.

It's important that we introduce this broader approach to the subject in a way that doesn't blindside teachers with a barrage of new topics - ignoring the impact on them, and the expertise they've built up teaching established topics over the years.

In any case, subjects such as the World Wars and the Russian Revolution still have relevance in today's world in terms of the political, economic, social and cultural contributions they made.

When we at AQA put together our new History GCSE, we took all of this into account. We wanted to give teachers the option to teach more recent events (and a few more distant ones) alongside classic topics - and give students even more of a chance to understand our recent past and the centuries-old themes belonging to British history.

To keep up with the world as it stands in 2015, students must have a broader historical education than they have ever had before, with a much greater focus on understanding the world around them right now.

But - when that involves a rollercoaster ride through hundreds of years and some of the most momentous, nail-biting and compelling episodes from our past - who wouldn't want to be on board?