Overhaul school history, urges report by MPs and peers

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

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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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  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    When I was learning history, some parts were fasinating to me and others as dull as mud. What should happen is a generic histroy lesson for a year or two (that covers various fields in histroy (such as military and political)) and then the students can choose a field that they are interested in. Political histroy completely ruined it for me. The history of Britain/England would be nice as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Why British History? That was covered in my school more than enough. Yes give students a sense of chronology but of World History. As an A-Level student I would have found it both more useful and interesting to have been taught about the fall of Rome than of the British Monarchy, the Spanish Inquisition rather than the Gunpowder Plot. School history needs to move beyond Britain and the C20th.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    If the UK is to have a sense of shared identity it is vital that children are taught the basics about how these islands evolved. No-one can have a sense of perspective about the UK and what it means to be British if they do not understand how we came to be where we are. Chronological history should be a mandatory part of the curriculum in all schools, but it must be well taught to engage pupils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I think this would be helpful. For example, far too few people understand how the UK was formed and the differences between England, Britian and the UK. There are still swathes of the population who beleive the 18th century propoganda that the the Jacobite conflicts were 'Scots vs English' rather than a UK civil war with Scots, English, Welsh and Irish (and many more) on both sides.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I think it's a terrible idea.Forcing children to learn stuff they see as irrelevant may put them off for life, whereas letting them drop it earlier, they will come back to it when they've got more time, as I did. I would have resented it getting in the way of (to me) more relevant learning for my planned career at that point. Lesson time for career subjects is scarce and shouldn't be wasted.


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