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 230.


    History teaches us about the evils of the past - true.
    If the people who appreciated these lessons were in charge, the world would be a nicer place
    But look around at the leaders of the world's countries.
    A high % are power hungry & egotistical. How many wars have they caused? Until we change the way we choose our leaders - the lessons of history are wasted

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    History is great for giving context to us in our various societies today. The chronology is of prime importance to ensure that the pupils do not put the cart before the horse, so to speak.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    I agree.
    how can a person understand the way forward if they don't understand their own nations history? I was taught about the Roman Empire at primary school and how it impacted on our island.
    history is looking further back than WW1 and WW2
    the forming of Britain stems much further back than 1066

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.


    Yes, the Tory Party was founded to represent the landed gentry. But it has expanded to represent many other people. Ironically, the Labour Party was founded to represent the working classes but has now switched to represent the new landed gentry - big business. Under Blair and Brown at least. I have no idea who Miliband represents. Unfortunately, neither has he.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.


    However Boadicea was not Celtic, but Brythonic.


    If we're going to be pedantic then 'Brythonic' defines a group of languages rather than an ethnicity.

    Its debatable whether there actually was a rigid concept of ethnicity in the Celto-Roman world as individuals seem to have moved between tribes, nations & crossed continents without any social restrictions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    I wonder if the notion of teaching British History is about teaching the truth, or some sort of sanitized version of it. Much of British history is not something to be proud of.

    Kids don't understand the relevance of history and are most likely going to be put off by being forced to study it.

    Gove likes rote learning so it will probably just be names and dates of royalty, who we should bow to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    A clear understanding of the historic injustices inflicted on the common English people (particularly their being dispossessed of their principle assets) cannot be had, without some understanding of property, that is, land law.

    Maybe that's why such teaching was strenuously avoided when I was at school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    25 Minutes ago

    True the word knight is from Old English Cnecht meaning servant, compare it to French chavalier or German ritter. However Boadicea was not Celtic, but Brythonic. Celt is commonly used to refer to all non roman 'barbarians' in Europes North West as opposed to Germans in the North East.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    216 History is the study of the past so that we can understand its lessons and try, at least, not to repeat the mistakes. It also aids understanding of how we got to where we are - with both the good bits and the bad bits. You cannot go back in time and right wrongs - but to pretend they never happened or gloss over them is to ignore reality and make the sufferings of the wronged all for nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    School history is all about choosing which set of half-baked asynchronous disjointed set of facts you want the pupils to half-remember when they've left school - a la 1006 And All That. It doesn't really matter does it. What this is about is politicians and similar ideologues peddling propaganda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    205.Steve84 "History teaches valuable lessons of how evil humanity was (and can still be)... so that we don't repeat past evils".
    Absolutely agree. It's a lesson lost even on some modern-day Jews as they subjugate the Palestinians, and (closer to home) the media's demonisation of various groups (Muslims, 'the obese') and sheeple who hate who they are told to. Everyone should visit Auschwitz once.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Depending on which variety of history is taught ( political/economic/social/military etc) it might produce future politicians who have LEARNTsomething from history when deciding what policies to enact.
    What events across the world were happening at the same time would be a useful way for pupils to understand how our history is not something that happened in isolation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    211.Sensibly Reckless

    That's exactly why I have a problem with History being considered a more important subject than say, music or home economics. Unless it is taught in a completely balanced way - with the good AND the bad points being given equal time, it becomes too subjective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Speak for yourself! My history lessons were fascinating, with (for example) trips to Conwy castle followed by homework to draw up a plan of attack. Coursework looking at near ruins and trying to work out what was there, debates on the polical progression of UK since victorian times etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.


    "...Before 1066 we already had existing a Saxon nobility who had control of the land with knights and lords..."


    Of course there was a heirarchy of control. It's beyond me why some people assume I'm implying there was not.

    I'm not writing about control or administration, but title, and that is quite different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    @207. Whistling Neil

    Of course, the reason many people like history is because the people they criticise are dead and therefore not around to answer them back.

    Maybe you should invent a time machine so you can help all those poor people back in 1762?

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    202 BaughOutLoud

    '... my twelve year old is studying The Achievements of Mohammed.'

    And? Given the tensions, misunderstandings and lies around Islam across the world today this would seem to be entirely appropriate.

    He thinks Nelson is French? Shame you've let him get to twelve and never bought him a good history book or at least talked with him about it if it's so important to you

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    It's important to give students an awareness of key events, focused in Britain but across the world too (we live in a global society). It is far more important to teach students the essay writing, creativity and analytical skills in developing social, political and economic arguments based on sources and differing viewpoints. Any changes to the curriculum should focus on these aspects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Nothing at all was taught about WWII or WWI or really any military history when I was at school. The "horrors" of war was too much I suspect and yet this is the very thing that needs pointing out to future generations. History bored me at the time, so hence I dropped it. I probably wouldn't if it had modern and also military history which are more relevant than the wives of Henry VIII.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Save us from politically motivated history classes please.

    We were taught in history that everything the United Kingdom had ever done was a terrible thing and as an Englishman I was the inheritor of a legacy of evil which I had to apologise for.

    Industrial revolution? We focused on the suffering of the workers, not the great works of engineering.

    The US patriotic leaning approach is just as bad


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