History Marginalized in UK Schools

Article by Graeme Paton for The Telegraph, March 13, 2011:

Ofsted said history suffered in many primary schools because of weak subject knowledge among staff and the use of “disconnected topics” in lessons.

At secondary level, growing numbers of pupils are now exposed to just two years of compulsory history classes instead of the recommended three.

In a damning conclusion, the watchdog warned that England was the only country in Europe where schoolchildren were allowed to stop studying history at the age of 13.

In all, more than 100 state schools also failed to enter a single candidate for the subject at GCSE, it was revealed, a 25 per cent increase in just 12 months.

The disclosures follow claims from the Coalition that children are growing up ignorant of British history, with lessons for many pupils consisting of little more than a “cursory run through” of Henry VIII and Hitler before most pupils abandoned it altogether.

The Government has now launched a review of the National Curriculum in a move that is likely to specify the key dates, events and historical figures that all pupils should learn.

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said: “It is worrying that Ofsted finds that many pupils lack a chronological understanding of history and are unable to make links between events.

“It is also a concern that secondary schools are squeezing history out of the curriculum or into general humanities courses.

“The facts, dates and narrative of history cannot be learnt in disparate chunks – without them we cannot compare, interpret or evaluate the past or draw lessons from them.”

The report, History For All, was based on inspections of 166 primary and secondary schools in England over a three year period.

History teaching was good in around three-quarters of primary schools, Ofsted said, but teachers “found it difficult to establish a clear mental map of the past for pupils”.

It said weaknesses were down to a lack of teachers’ expertise in the subject combined with poor National Curriculum specifications that treated topics in a “disconnected way”.

The report told of one primary school curriculum that skipped from the Romans and Ancient Egypt to the Tudors and then the Victorians in subsequent years.

Similar weaknesses were identified in secondary schools.

Currently, history is compulsory during Key Stage 3 – traditionally from the age of 11 to 14. But many schools now squeeze this stage into just two years to allow pupils to start GCSEs earlier.

It found that one-in-five secondaries allowed pupils to give up history early or combined history and geography into generic “humanities” lessons.

Although the subject remained popular at GCSE level, growing numbers of schools now failed to offer it beyond the age of 14 at all, the watchdog suggested.

Just 20 per cent of pupils in the Government’s flagship academies took history at GCSE compared with almost half of privately-educated teenagers.

“In England, history is currently not compulsory for students beyond the age of 14 and those in schools offering a two-year Key Stage 3 course can stop studying history at the age of 13,” Ofsted said.

“England is unique in Europe in this respect. In almost all the countries of the European Union, it is compulsory to study history in some form in school until at least the ages of 15 or 16.”




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