Overhaul school history, urges report by MPs and peers

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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    do not teach the nonsense about kings and queens like henry v111 its a waste of teaching time better more social history.that is more important about how we have got to where we are

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    @236 kaybraes

    So, basically, you'd like schools to teach a lie. All of the things you mention ARE British history - without imperialism and colonialism the domestic history of Britain, industrialization, the spread of advanced capitalism, etc. would make no sense.

    There are things to be proud of and things to be ashamed of. Any history of Britain that tries to deny this is just a whitewash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    History, it's about how we got where we are today, and the mistakes or otherwise that PEOPLE made along the way.
    Certain dates have multi-national importance, which can only be brought into focus if they have a proper context.

    If we don't teach History properly, then at some point, the same mistakes will be made again, with those who warn being consigned to being "academics".
    Forget at your peril

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    A man very famous in History shared your views, though he had another country in mind
    “The veneration of great men must again be hammered into the German youth as a great legacy" Adolf Hitler
    No school teaches the course you describe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    A good idea. I like to know where i came from and how society came to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Hilarious History is far from PC. In fact much of it is definitely un-PC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Gavin 213
    That is exactly what we do in our history lessons today, though some of these skills can only really be tested at A level. Just took year 13 to an excellent day at National Archives where they saw Henry VIII's will. They loved it. Sadly when I was a pupil long ago we never discussed historical sources, now we do all the time starting with whose story is told in the Bayeux tapestry?

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    When I was learning history, some parts were fasinating to me and others as dull as mud. What should happen is a generic histroy lesson for a year or two (that covers various fields in histroy (such as military and political)) and then the students can choose a field that they are interested in. Political histroy completely ruined it for me. The history of Britain/England would be nice as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    151. Surely not

    "Norman genocide..blah blah...Norman scum...blah blah...Each of our Scandinavian bretheren countries has faired far better...blah"

    You do know that the Normans were also descended from Scandinavians, right? The clue is in the name: Normans is a corruption of Nortmanni (Northmen or Norsemen).

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Why British History? That was covered in my school more than enough. Yes give students a sense of chronology but of World History. As an A-Level student I would have found it both more useful and interesting to have been taught about the fall of Rome than of the British Monarchy, the Spanish Inquisition rather than the Gunpowder Plot. School history needs to move beyond Britain and the C20th.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    235 penguin337

    '... but we're not allowed to talk about these things any more.'

    And your evidence for that bit of nonsense is ...? Actually one of the things Gove hates about the current History curriculum is that it encourages pupils to discuss different views of the same historical events. Gove wants pupils to learn 'facts' ... and very Anglo-centric 'facts' at that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Steretonic -if constradict's has an apostrophe, it is English, rather than History we need to concentrate on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    At secondary school I only had one year of History and the mephasis was on learning dates and more dates. The History teacher was actually an inspiring guy but his hands were tied by the syllabus. History should be about finding out, not about simple memorisation of key dates. I have forgotten most of those dates but I do find history fascinating!

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    The key thing is to make history interesting or fun. Without that all is lost. Horrible Histories do that although I'm not sure they are quite the thing to cover topics in enough drtail. There is another series of books called Hilarious History that are hilarious (as the name suggests) and, surprisngly, cover 2000 years of British history topics in depth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Great idea , as long as it is British history, not with the emphasis on PC nonsense about how Britain allegedly robbed the poor people of Asia and Africa , the slave trade, and bombed innocent German civilians. History didn't start with WW1 either, there were nearly two millennia of reasonably well documented history before that. Teach the kids something to be proud of , not ashamed of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    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

    Actually it was a RELIGIOUS war

    1707 The Union (Protestant elite)
    1745 Catholics rampage south

    ...but we're not allowed to talk about these things anymore

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.


    "Henry 8th was not the hero of the people that the Church of England led curriculum would have you believe, as history is full of negatives not just positives."

    Where on earth is Henry VIII represented as a hero of the people?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    3. So the British don't teach that the second world war started on 1st September 1939 eh? I must tell my daughter who is head of History at her school, I'm sure she will put you right since you clearly have no idea what you're talking about!

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    why are people getting so hung up with this chronology and teaching in order? Kid's aren't thick! If you haven't taught them about the roman invasion before WW2 do you think they'll think the romans invaded on U-Boats?
    My gosh if we started at the beginning History would be every hour of every day at school and you'd still barely scratch the surface!

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    If the UK is to have a sense of shared identity it is vital that children are taught the basics about how these islands evolved. No-one can have a sense of perspective about the UK and what it means to be British if they do not understand how we came to be where we are. Chronological history should be a mandatory part of the curriculum in all schools, but it must be well taught to engage pupils.


Page 10 of 22


More Education & Family stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.