OVER THE NEXT EIGHTEEN months the government will settle the place of history within the National Curriculum for several years. Widespread and legitimate concerns that the curriculum is overloaded, and the demand - taken up by politicians - that more time should be devoted to improving literacy and numeracy in primary schools, have had the effect of placing history and geography under threat. In secondary schools pupils are often denied access to the full range of humanities subjects at GCSE level, so that history seems set to end up being compulsory only for those between the ages of eleven and fourteen. The case for history to be freely available to all who wish to study it is being made with vigour by the Campaign for History, launched earlier this year by the Historical Association.
Britain is the only country in Europe where pupils can finish studying history at fourteen. The Campaign maintains that history is important enough to be treated on an equal footing with other main subjects: in particular, national identity and an understanding of the past and how we have arrived at the present are central elements of active citizenship. A government task group under the chairmanship of Professor Bernard Crick has recently presented its interim proposals for the teaching of citizenship perhaps surprisingly, this marks the first time this concept has been systematically approached in the English school curriculum. Elsewhere in Europe, history is usually compulsory in general education establishments, and even in vocationally-orientated ones it is often a required area of study, as in the case, for example, in Switzerland.
Contrary to the assumption behind the Government's recent pronouncement about the primary curriculum, history has an important role to play in improving literacy and developing essential skills of analysis. It can help improve the educational achievements of boys, a topic of serious current concern. School history provides young people with a key to modern culture and the traditions that it embraces. It helps to develop skills of careful and rigorous enquiry, as well as moral sensitivity and reasoning. History balances logic and imagination, and supports many other areas of the school curriculum. As the Campaige points out, these features give students of history an advantage in the job market: a history qualification is welcomed by employers, who value the skills of research, enquiry and presentation that such students have acquired.
There is a wealth of evidence, not least from OFSTED inspections, of the excellent standards being attained in history work in primary and secondary schools. …