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 44.

    They do seem a lot more sensible and less obscure than they used to be. I really would expect most native Brits to know the answers to the current ones (well actually many probably don't but they should), whereas the old ones were more like tricky pub quiz questions that people feel they should know but no one actually does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It is impossible to answer the thrid of the new questions correctly given that it is called the Union Flag as has already been noted. I would hope that anyone who answered Union Jack would be marked as incorrect?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    how about teaching some of these scroungers from eastern europe how to behave in a library for a start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    "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)"

    Shouldn't that be the Union Flag?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    38. hw
    Please use coherent, grammatically correct English and black ink.
    Well done, you've just reduced the population of the UK to about 2,000,000.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    @26: Sadly lie detectors are bogus but otherwise I agree, what would be best is a test for whether they share our British values and are generally decent people. Unfortunately such a test could probably be cheated on with people choosing the right answers regardless of whether they believed them or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Write a 3000 word essay explaining why you want to come to UK, what you plan to do here on your successful application, how you will be a benefit to society and how you will integrate into society. Please use coherent, grammatically correct English and black ink.

  • Comment number 37.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    There shouldn't be a test full stop!

    There should be a list if core values and expectations that we, the British people endeavour to live too. They should be made sign an agreement stating they will also live to these values and expectations, integrate and accept our way of life.

    If they disagree with any, or clearly make no effort to integrate they should be shown the door.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    1. Who shot JR?
    2. Which section of the Met Police is nicknamed "The Sweeney"?
    3. What is the name of the hippo in "Rainbow"?
    4. Complete this LP title: "Never mind the - - - - - - - - , Here's The Sex Pistols"
    5. What was Arthur Daley's local called?

    EVERYONE in the UK who can't get at least 3 out of 5 should be deported.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Some history is important, some of the everyday stuff like queues, etiquette also. Reasonable English has to be important, too. These are citizenship tests, normally for people who have already been here some years. I did a couple online and failed, although I am British born and bred! Solvency good, having a job good. Maybe our own kids should learn this stuff too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    African or European?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    This is so silly. Why does history dictate how British you are? I am 33 and was born and raised in England and don't care about history at all, am I not British enough?

    Another example of posh school attitudes spilling over.

    Just get anyone who wants to settle in the UK to agree to the rules, if not then you go to prison or you are out, job done.

    I welcome immigrants by the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Suggested questions:

    1) WHAT... is your name?

    2) WHAT... is your quest?

    3) WHAT... is the capital of Assyria?

    4) WHAT... is your favourite colour?

    5) WHAT... is the wingspan of a swallow?

    Bridge of Death rope bridge with mysterious ejecting power is an optional extra. ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    This is idiotic.
    I could read a book about India, it would not make me Indian. It would not man I shared the culture and ideals of India.
    This is a test of good memory not citizenship.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Whats the point of these tests They achieve nothing and prove nothing. All they show is how well an agency can train applicants to provide the correct answers. We need proper control over immigration into this Country, not some gimic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    As a youngster I used to read history books as if they were novels. Not just British, but also French, Dutch and Italian history, as they are so entwined. I still like history today, but if you really want to red it more in depth, it becomes a day time job rather than a hobby...

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    At the time of writing this.......
    I can't believe that nobody has picked up on comment 17
    "Quiet simple really: LEARN them about their own human origins

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    just ask one question with a lie detector "are you a bigoted, child abusing wife beater with no intention to work, with radical views bordering on extremism, and a hatred for the west, who is only here to steal our benefits?" if the answer is no then they are welcome in my view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    As they will memorize any questions/ pass them on via a translator I see no point to it. More important is they speak/write English before they arrive at their own cost. Have enough money to pay for all costs ie Medical,dental [which pensioners pay]housing,schools,car +its costs for 3 yrs at least. I see MPs are saying 6months, this is not long enough. No extended families. Criminals sent back


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