History's Fighting Back; EDUCATION NOTEBOOK

Daily Mail (London), October 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

History's Fighting Back; EDUCATION NOTEBOOK


Byline: CONOR RYAN

PRINCE Charles touched a nerve when he warned that young people were becoming 'culturally disinherited' because they were learning too little about their own history.

And some historians say even those secondary school students who take GCSE history can get by without having to study British history before 1850 in any depth.

A government working group is advising education secretary Charles Clarke on how history lessons could be improved. But critics say unless the subject becomes a requirement for all secondary pupils, most young people will continue to lose out.

History is compulsory for children only until they reach 14. Only 218,000 students took GCSE history this year - a third of 16-year-olds. And it was only slightly more popular than psychology as an A-level choice, with 42,000 candidates.

Moreover, surveys suggest ignorance of basic facts. One study found 17 per cent of teenagers thought Oliver Cromwell led the English forces at the Battle of Hastings. Yet there has been a resurgence of history on TV, with programmes presented by Simon Schama and David Starkey attracting millions of viewers, and two dedicated satellite channels.

The national curriculum says children between five and 14 should learn all aspects of British history. In primary school, they study the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Tudors. They also cover either Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930.

From 11 to 14 they should learn about events after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Britain after 1500 and about the Empire and the industrial revolution.

But leading academics worry that older children are missing out.

Harry Dickinson, Professor of British History at Edinburgh University and vice-president of the Royal Historical Society, says: 'Children do very simple history at an early age. But at the age when they are ready to understand its complexities, they can drop it. We're the only major country to do this.' Professor Dickinson also believes that what children learn can be too narrow. 'There is far too much about Nazi Germany and not enough medieval and early British history,' he adds. …

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