Overhaul school history, urges report by MPs and peers

Henry VIII School history needs more of a sense of time says a parliamentary committee

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School history lessons should be overhauled and a British history qualification brought in for 16-year-olds, urges a group of MPs and peers.

The average 13-year-old learns history for just one hour a week, says a report from the all-party parliamentary group.

The government should allow schools in England to replace citizenship classes with history lessons, says the report.

The government said it was looking at history teaching as part of the national curriculum review.

The report, from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on History and Archives, says many schools regard history as too tough for their weaker students and allow them to drop it after two years at secondary school.

It also highlights widespread concerns about the curriculum, in terms both of content and the pace at which it is taught.

"It is very difficult to generate understanding and a sense of chronology in such abbreviated time periods," says the report.

These views chime with those of Education Secretary Michael Gove who has voiced concerns about the lack of a "connected narrative" in the teaching of British history, with some notable figures such as Winston Churchill, Horatio Nelson and Florence Nightingale not mandatory in the current curriculum.

'Doctor Who history'

Chris Skidmore, MP and vice-chairman of the committee, told BBC News he believed in taking a chronological approach to teaching "rather than what I would call Doctor Who-style history".

He added that it was important to balance analysis with chronology, as students needed to understand concepts such as time and the past.

He said he did not think that starting with the Victorians and skipping backwards and forwards was an effective approach.

The committee recommends the new qualification could be taught over five years, rather than the two required for GCSE. It would encompass a "local, national and international" perspective on British history.

The group would like the qualification to be one of the government's new English Baccalaureate Certificates which will replace GCSEs.

Mr Skidmore said his conversations with teachers had reflected an appetite for teaching citizenship through a focus on British history, the development of democracy and "our hard-won freedoms".

He added that he personally would favour making history compulsory to 16, but the report notes that this would require an extra 10,000 history teachers.

The report also reflects that the majority of young people currently get most of their history in primary schools and urges better training in the subject for primary teachers.

'Key events'

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "We believe all schoolchildren should be taught about key events and figures in British history. That is why we are looking at history teaching as part of the national curriculum review to ensure that pupils are engaged and inspired by the subject.

"The introduction of the EBacc has meant schools are more likely to offer history to all pupils and will help us to keep history at the heart of the school curriculum. This year 41% of Year 10 pupils are studying history GCSE, compared to 31% of students who took history GCSEs last year."

Supporters of teaching citizenship said they were "appalled" by the report.

Andy Thornton, of the Citizenship Foundation, described it as "an understandable defence of their own subject based on ignorance of another's", adding that citizenship teaching had helped transform schools, inducting pupils "into the social order of the day, empowering them to play their part in its stability and prosperity".

Paula Kitching, of the Historical Association, said the new course would be a positive step, but it should be geared to all ability levels and supported by more in-service training for teachers.

"We have been tracking the teaching of history in schools for a number of years and have repeatedly warned of the dangers of limited time and a reduction in specialist teachers.

"There are many good teachers in English schools teaching history but the conditions and restrictions highlighted in the report's findings will mean that history for all will remain a dream rather than a reality."

History writer and former teacher Trevor Fisher however described the report as "awful" and "backward looking".

"History is the fifth most popular A-level subject, with students that are passionate about their subject. Once you make it compulsory, it is dead," said Mr Fisher.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    No, no, no, leave well alone. Most third world countries try and rewrite their countries histroy despite the facts.
    India before the Raj' was NOT all sweetness and happy Maharajas as they try to tell us now, those rich despots slaughtered 1,000's on a whim.
    The Falklands have never ever belonged to Argentina despite their rhetoric.
    We were NOT led by donkeys in

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I'm all for improving the history curriculum. I firmly believe that if the eighties had been covered properly, highlighting the damage which was done by deregulation and privatisation, younger voters would not have been so keen to vote for the coalition and it’s policies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    It's also worth remembering that in general, history was written by the winning side.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    The first lesson in our schools regarding history should be to tell our kids why the English language is so widespread - we can't keep ignoring the white elephant of the British Empire and its extremely chequered history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Not sure that politicians are competent to pontificate about teaching methods (but teachers are of course, competent to pronounce on politics).

    History important. Present and future more so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Having studied history and classics at A-Level and archaeology at university it was only during final year at uni that I understood that the history wasn't important. History as a qualification is about developing skills in report writing, structuring arguements, evaluating documents and analytics. All skills vital to business and for that reason history should remain a priority in education

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I think this would be helpful. For example, far too few people understand how the UK was formed and the differences between England, Britian and the UK. There are still swathes of the population who beleive the 18th century propoganda that the the Jacobite conflicts were 'Scots vs English' rather than a UK civil war with Scots, English, Welsh and Irish (and many more) on both sides.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I think it's a terrible idea.Forcing children to learn stuff they see as irrelevant may put them off for life, whereas letting them drop it earlier, they will come back to it when they've got more time, as I did. I would have resented it getting in the way of (to me) more relevant learning for my planned career at that point. Lesson time for career subjects is scarce and shouldn't be wasted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    @ Eddy from Waring,
    Before 1066 we already had existing a Saxon nobility who had control of the land with knights and lords. Before that the Celts had their own nobility proven by Boadicea who is a well know Celtic queen. However these topics are taught at primary school, so to start in 1066 where we have a change from these systems to one that will prevail for the next 600 years makes sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I remember being told by an economics student that history was easier than his chosen field and not as valid in todays world of work because everyone's opinion is just as good as the next. He did not know who Herbert Hoover was neither had heard of the doctrine of mercanalism. I think economics students should be banned from getting jobs until they have studied econmic history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Definitely agree there should be more history taught at school, and with more of a focus on British history.

    When I took history at school a surprisingly small amount of what we were taught actually involved Britain. GSCE topics included the Vietnam War, Soviet Russia (from Lenin to Gorby), and Native Americans. WWII barely got a look in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.


    "...Anglo-Saxon society was very hierarchical..."


    I didn't say it wasn't.

    Its system of Privilege would be considered unjust today.

    However, as for land, most of it was owned tribally in common.

    WtC took paramount title to it all, leading ultimately to the Inclosure Acts, throwing the Commoners off the land and into wage-slavery, starvation etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.


    Were/are the Normans a 'ruling elite ' in the same vein as the Nazi's or Stalin and his lackeys ?

    Ah no, the difference is the Normans murdered a far wider variety of people.

    The industrial genocide that those scum inflicted upon this country has, to my knowledge, never been taught as 'mainstream' education.

    Any idea why not ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Tudors / Henry VIII / Elizabeth / Queen Victoria / Hitler Porn. There it is the British Schools history curriculum: all taught in a chaotic fashion.
    History and Geography knowledge in Britain are indeed amusing...

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Personally I love history but do understand those who don't as many people don't see the relevance when to go out into the big wide world. Today I think it has even greater relevance as this world feels so vastly superior to what the world has experienced before. Look at the economic crash and compare it to the 30's it's so similar reflective thinking can help in meeting the problems of today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    90.Eddy from Waring
    "That's because they then didn't need to point out that all the land belonged communally to our ancestors up to that point [1066], rather than royalty's favoured few."

    Not true! Anglo-Saxon society was very hierarchical, with nobles, churls, and slaves. England was no more egalitarian before 1066 than after: the main difference was that most landowners were French.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.


    If you're going to be pedantic, it never was the "world at war". Large chunks of the world, including most of Latin America and significant parts of Africa, never were involved. However, to say the world war started in 1941 is ludicrous. Other countries simply got involved. The war was continuous from 1939 to 1945.

  • Comment number 113.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I recently taught a lesson to a Yr10 GCSE class on how the Nazis manipulated education and pushed a very German centric view of History. I will use this article as a starter with them next lesson and see if they think it is a hoax.
    Why do politicians think they are best suited to telling the professionals what is best? So depressing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    "Kids need to learn the difference between 'facts about the past' and 'history'."

    Not just kids! Adults starting with the Education minister need to too!
    How can we expect kids to take an interest in subjects that politicans want to water down to the dullest possible level?
    I was blessed with some fantastic History teachers, but none could have done much with the tripe the gov are proposing!


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