Overhaul school history, urges report by MPs and peers

By Judith Burns
Education reporter, BBC News

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

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.

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