Does the history curriculum need to change (again)?
Tonight I attended the annual Headmasters Presentation at my children’s primary school. This is when the Head of the school addresses parents and lays out the strategy and plan of the school for the coming year. Lots of different things are discussed – funding, recruitment, equipment, OFSTED etc – all very relevant and interesting to parents, but I guess you are wondering why I am blogging about it here.
Well, the opening statement from the Head was (and I paraphrase here): “I have been teaching for over twenty-five years and there has been more change to the national curriculum over the last 18months than I have ever witnessed. Ever.”
That is quite a statement, and as he went on to explain some of the changes it was quickly apparent to all of us parents that the amount of change is indeed startling and must be a huge pain for teachers. And, as it turns out, the history curriculum has been significantly changed and all schools (both primary and secondary) are being asked to teach history in a very different way.
They now have to teach the history in strict chronological order, this means primary school children will be taught history up to 1066 and when they move across to secondary school they will then pick up where their primary school left off and work slowly up to the modern day. On paper, I guess this seems straightforward and logical – learning history in date order allows pupils to follow a story and link different events with each other as they move through time. But for me, there are a couple of issues with this approach:
- The school my kids go to is a lovely little village school which was built in Victorian times, it is a shame that they cannot learn about the people who built their school due to curriculum restrictions as I am sure it would be a great project for them.
- By going in chronological order like this it means that if schools follow the curriculum to the letter that no primary school child will be formally educated in the history of the First World War. (Despite being in the middle of the centenary).
- Taking this one step further, there is a very real danger that children will finish their formal education (i.e. GCSE) without being taught about the Second World War and The Holocaust.
Without sounding like a stuck record, I have said time and time again (to anyone who will listen) that the First World War Centenary offer us (and by ‘us’ I mean historians, academics, broadcasters, teachers, parents, journalists, film makers etc.) a unique opportunity to educate and inspire our children about this very important section of world history. By not allowing primary school children to formally learn about the subject is a massive missed opportunity if you ask me.
The potential for kids to not learn about the Second World War and the Holocaust is really worrying. Our head teacher told us tonight that his youngest son (17) only learned about the Holocaust because he took extra lessons in history outside of school.
Now, I have not studied the curriculum and of course, I am reacting only to what I have just been told, but I have to trust a headteacher who has been in the teaching game for twenty odd years. He has no reason to make this kind of stuff up. So, what I want to know is who in government thought it was a good idea to have a situation where a generation of people could potentially grow up not knowing about or fully understanding the most terrible human genocide programme in the history of history. How is this a good thing? Do we really want a generation of people who are ignorant of this horrific part of history? I find it irresponsible and potentially very dangerous.
As George Santayana (1863-1952) once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
But it’s ok, because in a few months time my kids will be experts on the Mayan Civilisation.