Controversy trails new history curriculum for UK schools
by Agency Reporter PUNCH
Students listening to the teacher
| credits: www.guardian.co.uk
of the UK’s leading historians have endorsed Education Secretary
Michael Gove’s new history curriculum for schools in England.
Fifteen historians, including Profs David Starkey and Niall Ferguson, wrote a letter to the Times newspaper.
The letter welcomed Mr Gove’s
controversial plans to have topics taught in chronological order, saying
it had "long been needed”.
But the Historical Association said the curriculum changes were "unworkable”.
Under Mr Gove’s plans, revealed earlier
this month, children will learn a complete history of Britain, with a
clear "narrative of British progress” and an emphasis on heroes and
heroines of the past.
The youngest children, as is currently
the case, will be taught about key historical figures, and from the age
of seven, pupils will be expected to learn a detailed chronological
history of Britain, from the Stone Age through to the end of the Cold
In their letter, the 15 historians said
they were in "no doubt that the proposed changes to the curriculum will
provoke controversy among those attached to the status quo and
suspicious of change”.
"What we want young people to have is a usable map of the past,” Prof. Chris Husbands of the Institute of Education says
It said: "Alongside other core subjects
of the curriculum, mathematics, English, sciences and modern languages,
history has a special role in developing in each and every individual a
sense of their own identity as part of a historic community with
worldwide links, interwoven with the ability to analyse and research the
past that remains essential for a full understanding of modern society.
"It should be made possible for every pupil to take in the full narrative of our history throughout every century.
"No-one would expect a pupil to be denied
the chance to obtain a full knowledge of the rich tapestry of the
history of their own country, in both its internal and external
"It is for this reason that we give our
support in principle to the changes to the new national curriculum for
history that the government is proposing.”
The letter continued: "Above all, we
recognise that a coherent curriculum that reflects how events and topics
relate to one another over time, together with a renewed focus in
primary school for history, has long been needed.”
But the changes, notably the move to teach history chronologically, have brought criticism from other historians.
"What we want young people to have is a usable map of the past,” Husbands says.
He adds, "If you teach chronologically
you end up with a seven-year-old understanding of the Saxons, a
10-year-old understanding of the Middle Ages and a 14-year-old
understanding of the industrial revolution.
"But history is more complex than that.
"There’s no evidence that teaching
chronologically produces an understanding of chronology. What we want
young people to have is a usable map of the past.
"There are well-tried ways of handling these issues, which are currently being ignored.”
Rebecca Sullivan, chief executive of the
Historical Association, said it welcomed the review for reasserting the
importance and centrality of history to "any broad and balanced
"However, these [Mr Gove’s] proposals are
only for children up to the age of 14, so the breadth proposed cannot
be realistically achieved – why not up to age 16?
"Still, our main concern with these
proposals has to be primary, where most teachers are not history
specialists, and are being expected to teach complex areas of history
such as religion, war, identity and nation building without any training
or resources and possibly little historical knowledge of their own.
"This is more likely to muddle
chronological understanding. This particular problem will only be
exacerbated in small rural schools where classes are made up from more
than one year group making sequential teaching difficult.
"So whilst we sympathise with the
signatories of the letter, as it stands this curriculum is unworkable
and we will be making serious recommendations for further review.”