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Citizenship is dead. Long live history?

Is history teaching in schools in crisis?

7:00pm, Monday 14 February 2011, London

During the ‘Age of New Labour’ many felt that history was sidelined. Whilst it was a Conservative Education Minister Kenneth Clarke who made it a voluntary subject for 14 year olds, New Labour’s policies seemed to actively promote its decline. It advocated a ‘personalised’ curriculum in which students were encouraged to opt out of traditional academic disciplines, such as History, whilst many felt that its new curriculum theme - Citizenship - offered a poor substitute.

Hopes have now been raised by the formation of a Coalition government led by the Conservatives. In 2005 the then Shadow Conservative Education Secretary Tim Collins argued that history should be a mandatory subject for all school students up to the age of 16. And his successor and current Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove appears to have similar sympathies. In his view all students are entitled to learn ‘our Island’s story’ as ‘one of the under-appreciated tragedies of our time has been the sundering of our society from its past.’

At the same time, Gove has announced a review of the curriculum, whilst himself stressing the importance of both facts and historical figures. ‘One of the problems that we have at the moment’, Gove has argued, ‘is that in the history curriculum we only have two names.’ However, some feel that Gove has already started to qualify his commitment to the discipline. In particular, they refer to his proposed English Baccalaureate, for which students are only required to sit exams in Geography or History at 16.

So is History teaching in schools in crisis? If it is, how should we characterise this crisis? More positively, why do we teach History? Should it be mandatory for all students up to 16? Can it and should it transmit values? And, most fundamentally of all, what history should be taught?

Listen to a recording of the forum.


Professor Gary McCulloch, author, The Struggle for the History of Education
Mark Taylor, secondary school history teacher

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