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 124.


    Probably good news that spelling will not form part of the test.

    Otherwise, you'd be out on your ear for a starter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    compulsory history knowledge especially for existing citizens:

    - ethnicity of all previous English monarchs
    - origins of English language & race
    - ordinary income during empire wealth
    - reasons for WW1 against Germany
    - gin epidemic
    - opium wars
    - Zulu wars
    - Indian mutinies
    - Amritsar massacre
    - empire legacy of African borders
    - replacing Indian output from industrial to agrarian

    no more space

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    98. ronnieboy1
    its beyond many immigrants to understand the proud and superb history of great britain, compared say to france and poland who collapsed like a pack of cards in 3 weeks against hitler.
    Question 1. Who was Lord Gort.
    Question 2. What was operation Dynamo.
    Question 3. How fortunate was it that the UK didn't have a land border with Germany in 1939?
    .... etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    A reasonable knowledge of the English language is essential: No foreign language tests!
    WWII including the speeches of Winston Churchill.
    WWI including significance of Nov 11 & poppies.
    Newton, Brunel, Fleming, Hawking et al.
    History of freedom from Magna Carta to the Sufferagette movement.
    Culture: Shakespeare, The Beatles, Monty Python.

    BTW, it's the "Union Flag", not the "Union Jack".

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Q1) Complete the list starting from "4 candles"

    Q2) What's Silly about Mid On?

    Q3) Snog, Marry or Avoid a twelve year old?

    Q4) Pronounce "Z"

    Q6) Do you count?

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    These are questions any guide book for this country can tell you the answers for - knowing them does not make you British. As important as history is, teaching people how to behave properly and how to fit into society would be more appropriate, for their benefit and everyone else's.

  • Comment number 118.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    King Richard and the crusades were a pretty pivotal moment in this county's history. A few questions about that should be required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Note that the key historical figures Robert Burns has no page on the BBC Historical figures site. Maybe like Andy Murray he needs to win a major to become British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Some very ropey understanding of the country being shown on here by the natives, eg Riggadon complains about too many systems of law and British law having been forgotten. There has never been a British system, there are 3 distinct legal systems & traditions. English, Scots & NI

    In school we never learned about Henry VIII but we did study the wars of independence and the Treaty & Act of Union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Under this Govt the UK are in danger of becoming a laughing stock, after all the Monarchy consists of German & Greek descendents! So should there be questions relating to Germany & Greece also?

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    They can't even publish it correctly when the number of parliamentary constituencies in the UK is 650. None of the above! The flag is called Union Flag - It is called Union Jack when flown in the bows of a warship and because of the size and power of the Royal Navy internationally at the time.

  • Comment number 112.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Please note:To test-people must have lived legally in the Uk for three to five years (depending on when initial Leave to Enter visa issued); it's administered in English, Gaelic, and Welsh ONLY-few have ever used Gaelic or Welsh to test.

    History questions should cover the entire period of British existence written to include the arts, immigration, etc. History=Our Story=shared sense of UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Dropping momentous historical facts into conversation might be a great way of assimilating into a Conservative gentlemen's club, but it won't get you very far on an inner city council estate. :-|

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Here's another idea.

    Ask somone to correctly fill in the following forms
    1 - Form to claim a benifit
    2 - Self assesment tax form.

    Correct anwser to 1 you are automatically disbared unless you did 2 correctly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

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


    To be clear, it is all to do with the Pole (which they don't have)

    The thick white diagonal should be to the top, closest to the pole - depending on which side you are standing, that would be left or right.

    Assuming the white hem is the pole, they are upside down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    in answer to m59e
    I think I heard they were going to be written in Saxon, Roman, Briton, Norse, Jute, Celtic and Phoenician. When you go abroad if you go abroad you may notice most medical facilities have multiple language literature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    History tells us where we came from, it doesn't tell us who we are and has absolutely no ability to predict the future. If was any good at the latter we would have stopped having wars some time ago ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    @99 The answer is A. The BBC have simply lifted the first 5 questions from the Home Office sample test.


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