Saturday, 26 July 2014

1066 And All That

At this time of year many young people are waiting for the results of their public examinations. A uniform system of examinations for school pupils was established a little less than a hundred years ago. The School Certificate, taken at the age of fifteen or sixteen, and the Higher Certificate, taken at seventeen or eighteen, were introduced in 1917.

Only a minority of pupils sat these exams. The school leaving age was raised from twelve to fourteen in 1918. Not all children had access to secondary education, and not all of those who did followed a curriculum which led to School Certificate. In 1919, the first year in which the exam was held, 28,000 pupils were entered for the School Certificate. In 1950, the last year in which it was held, 99,900 took the exam.

From 1951 School Certificate was replaced by O [Ordinary] Levels and A [Advanced] Levels. O Levels were themselves replaced by GCSEs in 1988.

There are longstanding debates about the comparative rigour of School Certificate, O Levels and GCSEs. School Certificate was certainly more demanding in one respect. A candidate had to pass six subjects at one sitting in order to achieve the certificate. Commercial subjects as well as the more traditional academic subjects were taken.

Course content and teaching methods have also been much discussed. Here is the School Certificate English History paper from March 1932.

Oxford Local Examinations
School Certificate
Thursday, March 17, 1932, from 10.45 A.M to 1 P.M

English History, 55 B.C. – 1904 A.D. 

[Answer FIVE questions. Questions may be chosen from ONE Section only, or from any TWO.
Credit will be given for SIMPLE sketch-maps whenever they are appropriate.]

SECTION 1 (55 B.C.  1485 A.D.]

1. Give an account of the rise and development of the kingdom of Northumbria, pointing out its importance in English history.

2. Explain carefully the importance of the following : –
(a) The withdrawal of the Roman legions.
(b) The battle of Deorham.
(c) The battle of Ethandune
(d) The payment of Danegeld

3. What were the causes of the anarchy in the reign of Stephen? State what steps Henry II took to restore the country to law and order.

4. Compare the career of Simon de Montfort with that of Thomas of Lancaster.

5. Show how by legislation or other means Edward I increased the royal power over (a) the barons (b) the Church.

6. Trace the course of the Hundred Years’ War during the reign of Edward III. How far was he successful in that war?

7. Either (a) Write an account of the Black Death and show how it affected the interests of the feudal landlords and their labourers. Or (b) Explain fully what is meant by the statement that Wycliffe was ‘the Morning Star of the Reformation.’

8. Choosing either Henry IV or Edward IV explain why he had to fight (a) to get the throne (b) to keep it.

SECTION II (1485  1660)

9. Explain and discuss one of the following topics :–
(a) The Tudor despotism.
(b) The Revival of Learning.

10. Account for :–
(a) The fall from power of the Protector Somerset.
(b) The failure of Wyatt’s rebellion.

11. What were the main difficulties that faced Elizabeth at the beginning of her reign? Show to what extent and by what means she overcame them.

12. What do you know of the maritime exploits of Englishmen during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I?

13. Give an account of the foreign policy of (a) Henry VIII (b) James I. In what ways were their policies similar?

14. Show what led to the following and how they affected the fortune of Charles I :–
(a) The Ship-Money case.
(b) The Solemn League and Covenant.

15. Write an account of the main incidents after the battle of Naseby that led finally to the execution of Charles I.

16. What are the claims of Oliver Cromwell to greatness?

SECTION III (1660  1792)

17. Charles II promised liberty to tender consciences. How far was this promise fulfilled during his reign?
18. James II was not unpopular at hs accession: three years later he lost his throne for lack of support. Account for these two facts.

19. Give a short account of Marlborough’s campaigns on the Continent.

20. Point out the main difficulties in the way of the Union of England and Scotland. Show how the difficulties were overcome, and give the main terms of agreement in 1707.

21. There were both advantages and disadvantages for the country in the Whig domination during the first half of the eighteenth century. Give some account of these.

22. Illustrate the importance of British sea power in the Seven Years’ War.

23. Discuss two of the following topics :–
(a) The work of Warren Hastings in India.
(b) The career and importance of John Wesley.
(c) Conditions in Ireland in the eighteenth century.

24. How far had either Pitt or Burke shown himself to be a great statesman before the French Revolution?

SECTION IV (1792  1904)

25. Describe and estimate the importance of three of the chief reforms carried out in the first half of the nineteenth century. Which had the most far reaching effects? Give reasons for your view.

26. Show how Napoleon tried to ruin (a) Great Britain’s trade and (b) her Eastern Empire. Account for his failure to achieve these two objects.

27. Give a short account of three of the following :–
(a) The Luddites.
(b) The Manchester Massacres.
(c) The Six Acts.
(d) The Cato Street Conspiracy.

28. Describe and discuss the importance of either (a) Canning’s foreign policy or (b) Gladstone’s domestic reforms.

29. Discuss the following topics :–
(a) The reason for Britain’s entry into the Crimean War.
(b) The attitude of Britain to the American Civil War

30. Show the importance of (a) Lord Durham (b) Cecil Rhodes, in the history of the British Empire.

31. Compare Peel and Disraeli as party leaders.

32. Explain and indicate the importance of :–
(a) The repeal of the Combination Act in 1825.
(b) The Reform Act of 1867.
(c) Mr Balfour’s Education Act of 1902.


  1. Wow! Answer all that in two and a quarter hours? And think of all the work put in during the year to cover that amount of material. But what a wonderful overview of British history. Some of the students (aged 18-21) I teach have to have a little chart given to them so they know which order the Tudors, Stuarts and Victorians came ...

  2. They were required to answer questions from one or two sections only, so I suppose that's what they covered at school. The candidate whose paper this was seems to have focused on the Tudor period, judging by his marginal squiggles.

    I think it's a good paper. It covers a range of subjects within each period, so there's a fair amount of choice for candidates. There's quite a lot of analysis required, as opposed to straight narrative.

    But I'd forgotten how much detail students needed to have memorised to write intelligent answers on five or more topics in exams like these. I know what most of the questions are getting at, but I couldn't sit down and answer many of them off the top of my head!