The Future of History under GovePosted: October 16, 2012
So, as is now the established formal process, the next elements of the National Curriculum have been announced in the Mail and the Sunday Times. Not for this Secretary of State anything so quaint and old fashioned as an announcement in Parliament or even a press conference where anyone might dare to ask questions.
The announcement was mainly about the history curriculum. The focus is apparently to be on 200 key figures and events which shaped Britain. The existing curriculum will be scrapped because it is too “politically correct”. We are not told whether we will now have one that is politically (or any other way) incorrect! Quite by coincidence the hard-working investigative journalists who got this scoop both headlined the article “Gove brings back 1066 and all that”. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that bringing back 1066 is seen as a positive thing – even though it was designed as a satire on simplistic and old-fashioned teaching in 1930!
This leak raises a number of quite exceptionally serious issues about how this government is dealing with the school curriculum.
It would seem clear from this “announcement” that the very detailed prescription seen in the draft programmes of study for primary English, maths and science will be seen too in other subjects. It would seem clear that the scope for teachers to design a curriculum they find suited to their pupils and their communities will be radically reduced.
If these leaks are to be believed, the government is adopting an approach to history which will sell pupils seriously short. It seems to take us back to the “great man” (and most will certainly be men) approach to history which takes no account of deeper economic, social and cultural issues or of the lives of the great majority of people. It’s an approach to history that was abandoned by serious students of the subject many decades ago.
It also seems likely to focus entirely on content rather than historical skills. The current curriculum has a good balance of the two. It understands that one reason for studying history is to understand how to gather and assess evidence, identify bias and assess cause and effect. But this is balanced with both the development of a broad understanding of chronology and the study of periods of history in depth. This, it would seem, is what is dismissed by ministers as “political correctness”.
History is a subject which is fundamental to our understanding of our society and its place in the world. What we know and believe about the past has a big influence on how we view the present. Choosing what knowledge is to be taught and what is not to be taught is a profoundly ideological and political activity – the idea that there is one right answer to what young people should know in a subject like history is fundamentally false.
And it is why no government – indeed no one at all – should seek to prescribe the history curriculum in such detail and with such little consultation. The only way of preventing this kind of dangerous centralisation is to enable schools to make their own decisions – salvation lies in pluralism not in ministerial prescription.
Just as an afterthought, it seems the Citizenship curriculum will be reduced to one page! King Alfred and King Athelstan are clearly more important than enabling young people to become active and engaged citizens.