From the archive - 22.12.1989

History report held up by row

Publication of the national curriculum history working group report will be delayed until March at the earliest following a dispute between its members and the Government over what emphasis to give facts in the subject.

They refuse to give in to pressure from Mr John MacGregor, the education secretary, who said facts - dates, events and people - should have more emphasis than was given in the interim report last autumn. Nor do they hold with his view that British history was short-changed.

Commander Michael Saunders Watson, chairman of the group, told TES that work was set back a month with the change of education secretary in July and Mr MacGregor's need to come to grips with the first report before pronouncing on it.

He was tight-lipped about subsequent changes to recommendations, but said the final report would go to ministers at the end of January and that it would be unrealistic for bodies such as the Historical Association to hold conferences on it before mid-March or even Easter.

Commander Saunders Watson gave no indication of any discontent or other reason why final publication was being delayed. But members subsequently confirmed that a row was brewing over what they see as Mr MacGregor's basic misconceptions, and that this would lead to delays as the group mustered arguments to support its recommendations.

While Commander Saunders Watson refused to be drawn on the latest thinking of his group, he did clarify the thinking behind the interim report and said the public was confused about historical facts.

A knowledge of dates and events per se was of little value without deeper understanding. "Historical information as it is has very little meaning," he said, amplifying his group's point that the volume of historical facts was unwieldy to make any more than an arbitrary selection in the attainment targets.

With the interim report, the group had been given "the opportunity to rewrite the history curriculum from scratch and tried to take a new approach", Commander Watson said, though he admitted that their "attempts to novel thinking were not terribly well received".

Overall, he urged, and this is the nearest indication of what the final report will look like, "a lot of the interim report was just about right, although more detailed work is needed".

Indeed, members of the group have already dropped broad hints that omissions such as the role of Britain in Europe, the rise of fascism and totalitarianism and world history 1929-45 have been restored for the final report.

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