An excellent article reprinted from the Times of London
Original Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/education/article2107201.ece
Children must be taught landmark dates in chronological order from primary school, to give them a common sense of British history and identity, Ofsted tells the Government today. Far from knowing the order of key events, such as the Battle of Hastings or the signing of Magna Carta, pupils have no overview of history and cannot answer the “big questions” it poses, the schools’ inspectorate has found. Not only are key events in British and world history overlooked, but without a sense of the order in which they occurred, students cannot make any connections with the periods that they have studied.
The damning assessment of pupils’ understanding and the way history is taught in England’s schools, particularly primaries, comes after academics and historians have called repeatedly for a review of the way the subject is taught up to the age of 14. “History is taught in all primary schools, but we are recommending that the syllabus is looked at to promote a coherence in what’s being taught – a core, with some local discretion,” said Miriam Rosen, Ofsted’s director of education.
Dr Rosen acknowledged that history had been squeezed in some primaries, because of their need to raise standards in the three Rs. “We quite understand why schools have focused on literacy and numeracy, but we think they are beginning to see they can link history teaching to make sure it’s not lost and that there’s still a focus on the core subjects,” she added. Her comments appear to be at odds with the latest proposals by the Government to allow schools to teach themes such as creativity and cultural understanding, rather than individual academic subjects, such as history and science, at secondary level. In History in the Balance: History in English Schools 2003-7, the inspectors targeted their criticism mainly at the education of 7 to 11-year-olds, “which continues to disappoint”.
While the teachers themselves often had not studied the subject beyond 14, they were also poorly trained in history and tended to jump from one topic to the next, the inspectors found. They cited one primary, where eight-year-olds studied the Romans one term, learnt how children coped in the Second World War the next and finished with Ancient Egypt. Although the National Curriculum calls for pupils to develop a “chronological framework” and to make “connections between events and changes in the different periods”, the inspectors said this rarely happened in practice. “Consequently they often have little sense of chronology and the possibility of establishing an overarching story and addressing broader themes and issues is limited,” they wrote. The inspectors praised history teaching post14, but noted that only 32 per cent of pupils study it at GCSE level and even fewer post16. Although 66 per cent achieve A grades at GCSE, a third of A* grades are from independently educated pupils. The report echoed concerns aired by academics and historians, including Kate Pretty, principal of Homerton College and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who said that Britain was losing a sense of shared identity, because children were not being taught basic general knowledge in primary school. “It’s not secondary school that instills the deficit, but primaries.
It’s the primary view of the great stories in the past, like Alfred burning the cakes, Magna Carta, Columbus sailing the ocean blue – all that sort of stuff,” she said. “The little tiny stories that make up the common thread which you can pull on, we’re expecting students to somehow implicitly know. It’s not about A-level knowledge of a particular subject, but a general web of understanding that binds us to a past. That seems to me is being lost somewhere in all of this.” The report comes as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority proposes allowing schools from next year to teach themes such as creativity and cultural understanding rather than individual academic subjects from the ages of 11 to 14.
The curriculum watchdog is already piloting a new GCSE syllabus in 70 schools where periods of history are replaced by themes including “conflict and its lasting impact” and “people’s diverse ideas”. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said he agreed with many of the points raised by Ofsted, which had been addressed in the revised secondary curriculum introduced last week. “The new curriculum has strengthened the requirement that all pupils need to have a good chronological understanding of history. This is compulsory at primary Key Stages too,” he said, adding that they would improve the training of primary teachers.
However, Michael Gove, the Shadow Children’s Secretary, said the report underlined the dangers of the new curriculum. “The changes Ed Balls [the Education Secretary] announced last week would mean more of the flabby, woolly, ‘theme-based’ teaching this report warns us about,” he said. “Ofsted underlines the importance of rigour and giving pupils a proper connected sense of what went on in the past. Ed Balls’s plans for five-minute lessons and writing Churchill out of the past are the complete opposite of that, and won’t give the next generation the understanding it deserves of our national story.”