What history should be in the UK citizenship test?

From left to right: Nelson's Clumn, the Queen, poppies, the union flag and Stonehenge

A new version of the UK citizenship test, with a greater focus on history, has been announced by the Home Office. Which events should immigrants be quizzed on?

Most British children learn about Henry VIII and his six wives, the Industrial Revolution and the two world wars.

But there's rarely agreement about what particular events are essential to a well-rounded knowledge of history.

The Home Office has now announced that a new version of the UK citizenship test will have more questions on British culture, history and traditions. The handbook Life in the United Kingdom has been updated.

Who will feature in the new test?

Sir Isaac Newton

The Home Office says key figures will feature in their questions, including:

While some historical information was included in the old handbook, there was less focus on history, the Home Office argues.

"Migrants did not have to show they had an understanding of how modern Britain has evolved. The new book and test will focus on events and people who have contributed to making Britain great," says a spokesman.

But how does learning about key historical moments tie into citizenship?

"History tells us who we are, where we came from and where we are going. It is the adhesive that knits our society together," says Christopher McGovern, director of the History Curriculum Association.

Comparing sample questions from the old and new citizenship tests, McGovern says the old test was too focused on access to welfare provision, such as free prescriptions, free legal advice, free healthcare and free training opportunities.

The new focus on the identity, history and culture of Britain will help migrants to integrate more successfully, he believes.

"Knowledge of the landmarks of British history is fundamental to securing and maintaining an integrated society based on shared values."

McGovern says that landmark historical events such as the location of Stonehenge, or who fought in the Battle of Trafalgar will give those new to the UK a starting point to learn about important periods of history.

"They are the signposts that guide us to a fuller understanding of Britain," he argues.

Some however, argue that multiple choice questions do not give enough context.

Start Quote

Britishness comes with time - you learn to queue and to be able to talk about the weather at length”

End Quote Iain Aitch

Historian and author Neil Storey says the questions are too simplistic and need to include the history of freedom, democracy and mutual respect "that we have prided ourselves on in Britain".

"We cannot have citizenship based upon what I would describe as a trivia test. It is essential to have a basic understanding of our history - good and bad - and the experiences of our nation at peace and war, because it defines who British people are."

The test, Storey adds, is a good start but it is equally important to learn how Britain has got to where it is, and what it has cost men and women to get there.

For example, people should learn about those who lost their lives during WWI and WWII, or the suffragettes who fought for women's rights to vote.

But will questions on a test - be it a school exam or a citizenship test - really encourage those taking it to learn more about the subject matter?

Historian Andrew Roberts believes it will help people appreciate "the long and splendid history of Britain".

Winston Churchill

"Anyone attempting to walk down a street in the UK without having any concept of this country's past is going to have a poorer understanding of life in Britain. These historical questions will help enrich migrants' lives."

But Iain Aitch, author of We're British, Innit, says while learning about history may be useful, it would be more relevant to learn what rhubarb or mushy peas are, as well as pub etiquette - like the custom of ordering a round of drinks in a bar.

"With any test people will learn what they need to. There may only be a small percentage who become interested in history.

"Britishness is something that comes with time. You learn to queue, not complain about your poor lunch and to be able to talk about the weather at length without saying much at all. Some things are nuanced and not really testable," adds Aitch.

New test sample questions* Old test sample questions

Which landmark is a prehistoric monument which still stands in the English county of Wiltshire?

(Stonehenge, Hadrian's Wall, Offa's Dyke or Fountains Abbey)

In the 1980s, the largest immigrant groups were from the West Indies, Ireland, India and Pakistan. TRUE OR FALSE?

What is the name of the admiral who died in a sea battle in 1805 and has a monument in Trafalgar Square, London?

(Cook, Drake, Nelson or Raleigh)

Which TWO of these are names for the Church of England?

(Methodist, Episcopal, Anglican, Presbyterian)

In 1801, a new version of the official flag of the United Kingdom was created. What is it often called?

(The British Standard, the Royal Banner, the St George Cross, the Union Jack)

How many parliamentary constituencies are there?

(464, 564, 646, 664)

Who is the Patron Saint of Scotland?

(St Andrew, St David, St George, St Patrick)

Is the following statement TRUE or FALSE?

Ulster Scots is a dialect which is spoken in Northern Ireland.

What flower is traditionally worn by people on Remembrance Day?

(Poppy, Lily, Daffodil, Iris)

In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband?

(1837, 1857, 1875, 1882)

*New test taken from a sample of 10 questions provided by the Home Office. The old test taken from a sample from the official practice citizenship test.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Cant answer half of these myself and I've been here for 53 years. So what exactly does knowing all this stuff do to make you a better citizen?

    Shouldn't we be teaching the political and legal history of the country - Magna Carta, emancipation of women, extension of voting rights, habaes corpus - before these silly lists of tourist attractions and historical celebrities? I despair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Those old test sample questions are hard :$

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Missed out the Romans from that list of waves of immigration, that included the first black (am I allowed to say that) immigrants, they were soldiers posted to the most bleak outposts of the empire, and for whatever reason decided to stay!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Historian says knowledge of history is important.


  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The model for successful immigration rests on two things: successful integration, and economic expedience. The test is whether we have skill-based need for immigration, and if so can the immigrants be successfully integrated into society. This test is the furthest away from achieving either of those things and is completely ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @9. m59e Q1. Do you plan to use your mobile on public transport?

    ha ha! ... and plan to use it in a loud and annoying manner to the detriment of all other passengers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Another question could be:

    Is it acceptable to spit on the floor of the street or a lift?

    I hope the answer is 'no'

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Quiet simple really: Learn them about their own human origins and then at a later date let them be informed of the how, and, why of hierarchies having been grabbing control and power over other humans for millenia for their own selfish-ends whilst at the same time slaughtering millions in the process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Which Education Secretary committed the most vindictive acts of vandalism?
    1. Margaret Thatcher
    2. Keith Joseph
    3. Kenneth Baker
    4. Michael Gove

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The most important history is how we came to where we are, and that story is wave after wave of immigration:

    The Basques who settled first (beomcing Celts after time)





    Commonwealth peoples

    European peoples

    We Brtis are ALL IMMIGRANTS, every single one of us......

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Firstly, they should learn the correct orientation of the Union Flag, which is upside down in the featured photo!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Hilarious that the BBC has chosen a picture of an upside-down union flag in it's main image about getting things about the UK right!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    1.DynamicEntrance - The Union started to disolve when Ireland left in the 1920s. The facts that the historian quoted in the article uses the terms UK and Britain interchangeably, and that the Bard has no page in the BBC history pages (The Scottish one, not the English one) shows we still have massive English-bias in UK institutions, including the BBC (he's usually internationally recognised).

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Only theirs. The question should be "what have you been doing in Britain for the last [minimum] years?" If they have been a resident (on a restrictive visa) asset to the country for some extended period of time and appear to be likely to continue being an asset, then grant them citizenship.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I read an article on the handbook accompanying applications yesterday and the entries on political historical figures troubled me. Citizenship guides should not be used to peddle a singular view of a person's legacy. They should stick to the facts of what was done and briefly summarise how the figure was perceived from different angles. Anything else is indoctrination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Q1. Do you plan to use your mobile on public transport?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    i think that i am the best in the world to deal with this issue so please can everyone stop commenting because non of you are as good as me troll#yolo

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    We're not citizens we're subjects of the Crown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    A key piece of legislation (The British Nationalities Act 1981) should form the cornerstone of any test. Particular emphasis should be on section 40, which outlines the revocation of citizenship on the grounds of "involvement in terrorism, espionage, serious organised crime...or unacceptable behaviours".
    Would be interested in how many revocations there have been since 1948. Doubt more than 6!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Knowing pointless historical dates is irrelevant. Far better would be a test to measure attitudes. I don't care if an applicant knows when the battle of Trafalgar was - I'm more concerned with their attitude to sexual equality and religious tolerance. These are the things that determine if someone will make a good citizen, not their ability to memorise facts.


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