Our History Lessons Are 'Worst in West'; Failing Curriculum Needs Overhaul, Says Academic

Daily Mail (London), April 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Our History Lessons Are 'Worst in West'; Failing Curriculum Needs Overhaul, Says Academic


Byline: Laura Clark Education Correspondent

HISTORY teaching in England is among the worst in the western world, a Cambridge University don has warned in a devastating report.

Youngsters are taught a 'miscellany of disconnected fragments' and examined on barely anything before 1870, he claimed, missing out on vast swathes of British, European and world history.

Professor Robert Tombs, a history fellow at St John's College, Cambridge, said it was 'difficult to name' a European country that taught the subject so poorly. In the report, released today, the professor demanded an overhaul of the subject, and published an alternative curriculum featuring 36 key events in British history that all secondary school pupils should study. Very few current GCSE courses examine history before 1870, he said, with more attention often paid to skills such as evaluating sources rather than acquiring knowledge.

While coverage is broader at A-level, he said the late middle ages and most of the 18th century are hardly touched.

'Over-specialisation on a few topics crowds out vast areas of history,' he said. 'Scant attention' is paid to the British Empire, despite its far-reaching implications in global history.

By contrast, countries including France, Germany and Australia are already teaching, or moving towards, a broad chronological sweep of world and national history. Professor Tombs also condemned 'dismal' marking, saying: 'Many examiners seem to know little about the topics they mark.'

The report, published by the Politeia think-tank, comes as the Government considers major curriculum reforms.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced a radical shake-up of all subjects. Proposals are being drawn up for introduction in September 2014.

In his report, Professor Tombs said history education in schools had 'little in common with real historical study'.

Pupils typically study a random array of topics including Tudor England, the native peoples of America, the Industrial Revolution in England and the Nazis.

Some study Hitler three times during their school career.

And rather than focusing on knowledge, examiners are more concerned with testing artificial historical 'skills' such as evaluating sources.

Pupils are also forced to study obscure topics in 'absurdly arcane' detail, he said.

Pupils taking an Edexcel GCSE unit on international relations, for example, need to know about Hungary's internal politics between 1953 and 1956, as well as 'scores of other topics'. …

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