National Curriculum Review: History
Submission from the Raphael Samuel History Centre (Queen Mary University of London, Birkbeck University of London, University of East London, Bishopsgate Institute).
History, Michael Gove says, is a vital part of children's education. We agree. In 2010 we ran 'Young History Workshop', a project based in eight London state secondary schools which aimed (in the words of the draft History curriculum) 'to equip pupils to think critically, weigh evidence, sift arguments, and develop perspective and judgement'. Along with these commendable aspirations, YHW aimed also to make History feel relevant to the lives and concerns of its young participants, nearly all from working-class and many from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Assisted by their teachers and early-career professional historians, students undertook original history projects on empire and British identity, racism in East London, and mental health, among other topics. They learned about History by doing it themselves: searching out sources, discussing approaches, arguing about the significance of their discoveries. Above all, these children learned to think about British history in a global, multi-national, multi-ethnic context. Would this happen under Mr Gove's proposed national curriculum?
We believe that the aims of initiatives like YHW will be far harder to achieve under the proposed curriculum. The curriculum's emphasis - contrary to all evidence on how children learn - on creating a 'core knowledge' base BEFORE the acquisition of understanding and skills, rather than developing understanding through the acquisition of knowledge by meaningful enquiry, will make it far harder for teachers to engage in project such as ours. The areas for research selected by the Young History Workshop participants reflected the histories they saw as relevant to their own experience, histories that we do not see reflected at all in the long list of proposed curriculum content, in which the fact of Britain's ethnic and cultural diversity is virtually absent.
Young History Workshop was sponsored by the Raphael Samuel History Centre, a four-way partnership between the University of East London, Queen Mary University of London, Birkbeck College University of London, and Bishopsgate Institute. Raphael Samuel was a leading postwar historian who believed passionately in the relevance of History to the lives and aspirations of ordinary people of all ages, classes, and ethnic backgrounds. For him, History was an open, democratic discipline that challenged prejudices and divisive loyalties. The idea of a 'patriotic' history featuring national 'heroes' and 'heroines' would have been anathema to Samuel, as it is to most historically-minded Britons - although not, apparently, to Mr Gove, or to the Prime Minister who said recently that school history should teach 'our island story in all its glory'. It is not the job of government or teachers to promote one selective history that fits a politicised view of the past. There are many histories, and it is the duty of all educators to assist children in understanding this, thereby equipping them to 'think critically, weigh evidence, sift arguments, and develop perspective and judgement'.
'History and Schools Working Group'
Raphael Samuel History Centre
12 April 2013
Recording for a history project, Asta Centre, West Silvertown
The history of childhood and the promotion of historical understanding among young people were among Raphael Samuel’s leading concerns. He wrote widely on these matters, and in the 1980s he worked with teachers, school students, academic historians and policy-makers to influence the shape and status of History in the national curriculum.
The RSHC continues this work today. In 2006, we established the RSHC History & Schools Working Group composed of university and community historians, history teachers, and the Education Manager of the Historical Association. This group has worked closely with students from three London secondary schools, and aims now to expand this student involvement through several new initiatives. (Any History teacher interested in joining the group is encouraged to contact our administrator).
In June 2012 a conference, History, the Nation and the Schools, was held at Bishopsgate Institute in London to discuss the current state of history education in British schools. Click here for a report of the event, and here for the video of the event.
In 2008 the Centre held an event, ‘Bad Kids? The Politics of Childhood, Past and Present’ at which school students, historians, educationalists and policy-makers discussed the difficulties faced by children over the last two centuries.
Since then the Centre has developed several projects focused on involving young people in the adventure of historical research and encouraging the next generation of historians. Click on the project names to the left for more details.