The 4th Estate GCSE Curriculum

• Aug 21, 2014 •

Happy GCSE results day! Yes, the day may feel slightly less important and life-changing than A-Level results day, but for some of you, you only have to wait a couple of years for that delight. In honour of the occasion, 4th Estate have compiled our very own GSCE book curriculum.


The Bees

The Bees could quite easily slot into both the environmental studies and the biology sensibility, given that the book is both a cautionary tale of what what we’re doing to our bees, our produce and our fields as well so effortlessly delivering to us the politics, social strata and processes inside of the beehive. Emma Donoghue for the New York Times says: ‘Forward-thinking teachers of high school environmental science and biology will add “The Bees” to their syllabuses in a flash. Not only is this novel a gripping story of a single bee’s life, it is also an impossibly well-observed guide to the important role bees play in our human lives.’

Cultural Studies

Americanah, the third novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, teenagers living in Lagos who fall in love. Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Americanah presents the culture shock and attempted assimilation of these two characters who attempt to negotiate their lives through two countries, neither their own. 


How to Make a Human Being

PSHCE.  Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education. Not a compulsory subject, but an important one nonethless. In my PSHCE class every Thursday afternoon our teacher (almost always a substitute) would pop a film on and leave the room. Which isn’t to say we didn’t learn anything. We certainly learnt how not to let the classroom dissolve into a Lord of the Flies type situation. We also learned a great deal from the films we watched. Think how much we’d know now if we’d spend that fifty minutes dissecting a copy of How to Make A Human Being by Christopher Potter, a book that asks:

What is it like to be a human being?
What is it like to be some other kind of animal?
What is reality?
What is consciousness?
Is there a God?
What is love?
Why live?

Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

Through the eyes and ears of Thomas Cromwell, the books’ narrative prism, we are shown Tudor England, the court of King Henry VIII. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events.

In Wolf Hall we witness Cromwell’s rise, beginning as clerk to Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. He is soon to become his successor. By 1535, when the action of Bring Up the Bodies begins, Cromwell is Chief Minister to Henry, his fortunes having risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife. Anne’s days, though, are marked. Cromwell watches as the king falls in love with silent, plain Jane Seymour, sensing what Henry’s affection will mean for his queen, for England, and for himself.

Environmental Studies

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilisation. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer. This is the twelfth expedition. The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

What Jeff VanderMeer does in Annihilation (and the following two novels in the Southern Reach Trilogy, Authority and Acceptance), is tell not just the story of human survival, but the relentlessness of nature.

Food Technology


I don’t remember learning anything of use in Food Technology. Honestly. I could sit here for hours trying to remember SOMETHING taught to me by Mrs Pike but cannot rouse a single memory from any of these classes. Thankfully, there are cookbooks in the world, else I would have starved to death by now. You could get me in a kitchen and I’d sit there, blinking, stomach rumbling, asking myself ‘now I’m sure I learnt how to…?’ for hours. However, hand me a copy of Eat by Nigel Slater and I would be well away. Smoked haddock with lentils, rice cakes, tomato focaccia, herb burgers, crab mac and cheese, if Mrs Pike knew what I could do now she’d ask ME to teach the class.

English Literature

Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read, when he hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the 6.44 to London. And so, with the turn of a page, began a year of reading that was to transform Andy’s life completely.

This book is Andy’s inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult and everything in-between. Crack the spine of your unread ‘Middlemarch’, discover what ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Moby-Dick’ have in common (everything, surprisingly) and knock yourself out with a new-found enthusiasm for Tolstoy, Douglas Adams and ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’. ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ is a reader’s odyssey and it begins with opening this book…



The dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest: the search for the solution of how to calculate longitude and the unlikely triumph of an English genius. ‘Sobel has done the impossible and made horology sexy – no mean feat’ said New Scientist. 

Anyone alive in the 18th century would have known that ‘the longitude problem’ was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day – and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, ‘Longitude’ is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation and clockmaking.


Bad Science

The clue is in the title…! When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an ‘Aqua Detox’ footbath, releasing her toxins into the water and turning it brown, he thought he’d try the same at home. ‘Like some kind of Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General’, using his girlfriend’s Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: ‘before my very eyes, the world’s first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend’s immorality.’

At a time when science is used to prove everything and nothing, everyone has their own ‘bad science’ moments – from the useless pie-chart on the back of cereal packets to the use of the word ‘visibly’ in cosmetics ads. This book will help people to quantify their instincts – that a lot of the so-called ‘science’ which appears in the media and in advertising is just wrong or misleading. Satirical and amusing – and unafraid to expose the ridiculous – it provides the reader with the facts they need to differentiate the good from the bad.


Fermat’s Last Theorem

In 1963 a schoolboy browsing in his local library stumbled across the world’s greatest mathematical problem: Fermat’s Last Theorem, a puzzle that every child can understand but which has baffled mathematicians for over 300 years. Aged just ten, Andrew Wiles dreamed that he would crack it.

Wiles’s lifelong obsession with a seemingly simple challenge set by a long-dead Frenchman is an emotional tale of sacrifice and extraordinary determination. In the end, he was forced to work in secrecy and isolation for seven years, harnessing all the power of modern mathematics to achieve his childhood dream. Many before him had tried and failed, including a 18-century philanderer who was killed in a duel, and an 18-century Frenchwoman who had to attend maths lectures at the Ecole Polytechnique disguised as a man.

A remarkable story of human endeavour and intellectual brilliance over three centuries, ‘Fermat‘s Last Theorem’ will fascinate both specialist and general readers.

Business Studies

A Great Day at the Office

A week before we were due to hand our business studies coursework in our teacher realised that we’d been taught the module wrong and were all set to be marked three grades lower than thought. We mustn’t dwell on the past.

For almost two decades, Dr John Briffa has worked with a wide range of organisations, both in the UK and abroad, to inspire literally thousands of people to live and work more healthily, effectively and sustainably.

His techniques have proven, time and again, that small changes to your lifestyle will recharge your batteries and boost your performance and productivity. Areas he will cover include: diet, hydration, the amount of alcohol you drink, and the relation these bear to your quantity and quality of sleep. Many of his solutions go against conventional wisdom, but are based on the most recent and cutting-edge studies.

Information Technology


Big Data is used to spy on us, hire and fire us, and sell us things we don’t need. In Dataclysm, Christian Rudder, founder of one of the world’s biggest dating websites OkCupid, puts this flood of information to an entirely different use: understanding human nature.

Drawing on terabytes of data from Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, OkCupid, and many other sites, Rudder examines the terrain of human experience to answer a range of questions: Does it matter where you went to school? How racist are we? How do political views alter relationships? Philosophers, psychologists, gene hunters and neuroscientists have tried to explain our flaws and foibles. Rudder shows that in today’s era of social media, a powerful new approach is possible, one that reveals how we actually behave when we think no one’s looking.

Words by Candice Carty-Williams

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