When I first heard archaeology was to be scrapped at A-Level I was not only surprised, but devastated. This is a subject that teaches our students about what it is to be human. We learn about the material culture left by our ancestors from all over the world. We discuss the concepts of culture, politics, art, identity and we do so with an open mind. Even after several years of teaching the A-Level I still find new material that keeps me in awe. We have to use physics, chemistry, biology and maths to explain how we evolved, what is under our feet and how technology has developed and been used. To not have this subject in our curriculum insinuates that this cross-curricular approach is no longer valued and not needed. But this is not the case.
So when I had to tell my students that they will become the last group to ever take A-Level archaeology I could see the same devastation. This is not a normal subject. We can cover art, philosophy, chemistry and geography in 20 minutes. Lessons discussing religion can take us around the world in 90 minutes, looking at Hinduism, Shamanism and ancient British Druids before realising that modern culture has made use of the same themes (and you only have to compare the myth of Horus and Seth in ancient Egypt to see that the Lion King may be an older tale than it first appears!). We have to be able to reflect upon the concepts of race, sexuality and gender, not only through our own eyes, but through the eyes of people who lived thousands of years ago. All of these themes allow students to develop their own ideas about life and their culture, and begin to understand who we are as a species and who they are as individuals.
I asked my students what I should write here and they told me to write what archaeology is to us, why it is important and what it means to not have an A-Level in archaeology. Several students pointed out that they struggled with maths and physics in a theoretical manner. But in the context of archaeology they have found their frame of reference and have grown in confidence. One former student even started an AS in physics in his second year as he wanted to become an archaeological surveyor. Others pointed to the complexity of the human mind and how archaeology allows us to discuss ideas that go back thousands of years, looking at ritual structures like Gobekli Tepe and the pyramids, to considering the real social and religious meaning of the Venus figurines.
AQA have kept a very strict media campaign, focusing on the risks that are involved in developing a new A-Level. In the archaeological community we do not see a risk in the development of a linear archaeology A-Level, we see opportunity. We do not see risk in finding quality examiners to mark the scripts, we know we have the best possible archaeologists in the UK to meet this challenge. We do not see risk in building a subject with options that can be examined fairly, we see a stimulating chance to demonstrate our ability to give students the best possible marks in a fair and structured manner. And I do not see a risk in my archaeology students, I see a group of bright, funny, and (mostly!) sensible characters who deserve the chance to learn archaeology at this level. And with over 70% of A-Level archaeology students going on to do an archaeology related subject at university, I know we are right and AQA are missing the fundamental point of our awesome subject, being inclusive and allowing all to learn about our rich culture and amazing heritage.
Sign Dan's Change.org petition to save the Archaeology A-Level here
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