Warning on teachers' lack of Holocaust knowledge

By Harry Farley
BBC News

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Major misconceptions about the Holocaust are common among teachers, research suggests.

Most teachers in England lack the knowledge to combat common myths and falsehoods about the atrocity, research by University College London's Centre for Holocaust Education suggests.

They said there had been improvements since a similar study in 2009.

But the researchers warned of "real-world consequences" from a lack of understanding.

The research found:

  • Most teachers did not know where or when the Holocaust began
  • Most could not correctly identify the proportion of the German population that was Jewish in 1933
  • Less than half knew what the British government's response was to learning of the massacre of Jewish people
  • Almost a fifth of those with recent experience of teaching about the Holocaust had received no formal specialist training

UCL associate professor Dr Andy Pearce said pupils could be developing "skewed and fundamentally erroneous impressions of this period".

"If one of the aims of teaching and learning about the Holocaust is to prevent the repetition of similar atrocities in the future, then we need to have secure knowledge and understanding of why this particular genocide happened," he said.

"As a society, we should have no tolerance for misunderstandings, myths and mythologies about the Holocaust.

"That can be a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and for revisionism and for denial and distortion.

"There are real-world consequences for these misconceptions and misunderstandings."

'White-supremacy ideology'

The study was based on in-depth focus groups and a survey of 1,077 teachers, 964 of whom had recently taught the Holocaust.

Woking High School head teacher Maiken Walter said accurate Holocaust education was particularly important after the pandemic, when pupils had spent more time online, often unsupervised.

"We have seen some signs in our community of a rise in white-supremacy ideology and it is a concern for most schools to try to tackle that," she said.

"The Holocaust is not something that is irrelevant to the modern day.

"It is still very central to our lives and it is essential it is taught well."

'Competing priorities'

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton was "concerned" at the findings.

"School leaders and teachers work very hard to combat a range of false information and myths on a range of subjects that are spread through the click of a button in a society which has undergone a rapid and poorly regulated digital revolution," he said.

"However, the reality is that schools and teachers face a huge number of pressures on their time in a crowded curriculum and constantly have to juggle many competing priorities.

"There is a wider need for the government to work with the education sector to review the many expectations on schools to make this situation more manageable."

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