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Expert Comment: History teaching in schools

0218 Ms Christine Smith Friday 14 December 2012

Christine Smith, Senior Lecturer in Senior Education, looks at recent proposals to overhaul History teaching in secondary schools.

The recent report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for History and Archives has caused much debate on the subject of History in our schools today, not least due to the assertion that weaker pupils and those from poorer areas are unlikely or unable to study History and the call for a complete overhaul of History teaching.  Yet the latest report from OFSTED (2011) and annual reports from the Historical Association recognise that History is one of the best taught subjects on the secondary school timetable.  Regular visits into secondary schools as part of the PGCE Secondary History course at Hope, provide almost daily evidence of History being a very popular subject across the full pupil ability range.

Pupil interest is often brought about not through the learning of facts and dates but through the ‘story’ element of the subject; the story of the individual working on the land or in a factory as well as that of the famous.  Children are naturally inquisitive and approaches to learning which allow them to use and develop such a characteristic encourage them to learn about the past.  All pupils, regardless of age, ability or socio-economic background need to learn about their past, our past; it provides them with a sense of place, an understanding of where they are in the larger picture of time past and how they/we have arrived at this point, allowing them to celebrate our successes and recognise that everything changes whilst developing skills which are crucial for success after school.

Rather than a complete overhaul, what is urgently required is for greater value to be placed on the subject by politicians, senior management teams in schools and employers.  Almost all European nations insist that History is taken to age 16, a clear acknowledgment of it’s importance not just for examination and employment purposes but as a way of celebrating our past, engendering a sense of pride in who we are and a sense of responsibility to ensure that we remember just where we came from.  

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