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 84.

    First devise a citizanship curriculum for schools and use that for immigrants. We might then have members of a society with common values

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I remember Channel 4 did a TV tackling immigration last year or the year before and asked approx 100 people who considered themselves strongly 'British' (whatever that means) to take the test... not one of them passed, none...

    For the record I got all the new test ones correct, I really can't see how you couldn't if you've lived here for more than 10 minutes...

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Surely a written test would also test their english. A multiple guess test, whatever you think of the quality of the questions, does little to show the willingness or ability to communicate, but is much cheaper to mark (or is that the point).

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Fairly pointless test.To be allowed in to this country applicants should prove they have a genuine commitment for womans' rights,recognise this is a secular country and tolerate people insulting their opinions and religion.New wives and husbands of Britich citizens should not be allowed straight in unless they can demonstrate the avove as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I can't answer question 3 in spite of being British born.Is there a correct answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    We jumped through the hoops last year to get my wife her residency - I tried some sample tests without reading the book and failed miserably.
    If she had failed (passed second time) the UKBA would have effectively split up my family - our son has dual citizenship and there is no work for me in my wife's country. Where is the sense in that? Meanwhile still looking for work in her country....

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Ref the photo above showing the Union Jack being held aloft upside down - the people holding it look suspciciously "British" (by the UKIP/BNP/EDL definition) so it begs the qeustion of those complaining about it:

    Should the Beeb have picked a photos of some non-white immigrants who know how to hold the flag correctly, unlike most "Brits" (as definied above)....????

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    But not "Which Prime Minister lied to take the country into an illegal war that is still on going and has lasted longer than both world wars combined and receives money payments directly from Israel for his laughable work as 'Middle East Peace Envoy'?"

    Why not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    An understanding of British law, and an acceptance of it, is a minimum requirement. When we are all being judged by the same law system then we can claim to be equals. This country has so many different courts and systems of law, its forgotten what its identity is. Weak spined liberals have allowed this. And you expect immigrants to know who we are? We dont even know who we are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    a) Why did anyone vote ConDem at the last election?
    b) Why does the Liebore Party think they are any better than the ConDems?
    c) By how long can a train miss its planned arrival time at a station and still be classified as "punctual"?
    d) How many aircraft are routinely used on a new Royal Navy aircraft carrier?
    e) Give 3 reasons why it will take over 25 years to build one high speed rail line?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Geography is more important than history with respect to immigration. Not so much for the immigrants themselves but for successive government ministers at the Home Office. They should learn that this is an over-populated, off-shore island within the European continent who's economy & job prospects do not favour new immigrants. No test of our History then becomes necessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    History is written by the winners and is constantly being changed as new evidence comes out such as Henry VIII only officially having 2 wives as the rest of the marriages were annuled in such a way so that they didn't even count as marriages in the first place. Wander round a few cities with the questions and if the average member of the public cant answer then how is an immigrant?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I don't see knowing any names or dates means a thing. (most natives are rubbish at it)

    A requirement to learn English is a must - just for practicality!

    And an understanding that the laws of the UK take precedent over ALL OTHER cultural laws that you may bring with you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Maybe some HONEST history so that immigrants do not get the FALSE impression that UK is & always has been paved with gold & that most of UK citizens were enslaved surfs etc, with no rights, no votes etc and lived in HOVELS & NOT what is attrociously & deviously stated as "our heritage" - big stately homes - which were largely & relatively the homes of wealthy oppressors & sex & physical abusers

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    @43.Hes fat hes round he bounces on the ground
    "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?"

    The question is "what is it commonly called" not "what is technically correct" so the Union Jack is the right answer to the question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    I do hope the incoming Guvnor of the BoE will be subjected to the same tests!
    He may change his mind about taking the job after all.
    Thought this Govt only wanted the answer to one question: how much you got? £250k and donate to the Tory party - you are in!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    All that should be required of a citizen is for them to pay their taxes and obey the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    The British school system doesn't even teach this kind of history any more. I had to explain to my 15yr old daughter what a 'pit' was a couple of weeks ago, which considering we live in Yorkshire, is ridiculous! But she knows what a 'Bindi' is :-/ Schools are too busy teaching foreign religious history so as not to upset the influx of immigrants

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    #6. Honest-to-God
    "A key piece of legislation (The British Nationalities Act 1981) should form the cornerstone of any test."
    That would be the act which removed nationality from people who had been granted it 25 years before and told Spike Milligan to apply to the Pakistan Embassy for a new passport because he had been born in Poona where his father was serving with the Indian Army.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    51. Nick Payne
    to quote Santayana "Those who do not learn from history..."
    Oh - I didn't know he composed citizenship tests. He didn't use words carelessly, wouldn't he have said "Those who cannot recall historical facts are condemned to the Departure Lounge"?


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