Contra Flo

Helen Ward

It's time to light up history lessons by replacing the Lady with the Lamp

FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE, the nurse whose story has inspired children for more than a century, is getting tired and should hand the lamp to other heroic figures from the past, an education consultant has said.

"There's nothing wrong with Flo, but it is getting boring," said Hilary Claire, who wants primaries to look beyond the Lady with the Lamp to liven up their lessons.

Florence Nightingale has been taught in most primaries since the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority made her part of its scheme of work.

But Ms Claire said: "I don't think much of the QCA scheme. There are more interesting things about Florence Nightingale than just those two years in the Crimea. Let's use her as a feminist, a mathematician and an epidemiologist."

Rick Weights, chair of the primary committee of the Historical Association, said: "The difficulty comes in finding enough information about famous people for teachers to feel confident. That is why teachers rely on Florence."

A search on Amazon for children's books on Florence Nightingale brings 98 results compared with 36 for Neil Armstrong, and just one for Walter Tull, Britain's first black football striker.

Ms Claire is writing about Tull, who was brought up in an orphanage, played for Tottenham Hotspurs and Northampton, won medals in the First World War and was killed at the Somme. Her teachers' pack will be sent free to all 400 Northamptonshire schools.

Diane Rougvie, key stage 2 co-ordinator at Rye Oak primary in Southwark, south London, has rewritten its curriculum for historypersonal social and health education to make it topic-based. "I did a lot of research and put together PowerPoint presentations." As a result, last term pupils learnt about heroes and heroines.

"We had a board ranking pupils' heroes from one to ten," she said. "The pupils came up with a list, which started out with Beyonce at number one and included David Beckham and Michael Owen."

Then they learnt about people who had been involved in fighting slavery and discrimination, such as Olaudah Equiano from Benin (now Nigeria), in 1745.

He was sold as a child slave, but bought his freedom, lived in London and wrote his autobiography. "By the end of term, Beyonce had moved off the board," says Ms Rougvie.

More recently, the QCA has published resources on Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Guy Fawkes.

Helena Gillespie, of the University of East Anglia, says: "There is a general feeling schools could move away from Florence. It's not about her being boring, but the books on her are so trite. I know Neil Armstrong is a popular alternative and I've heard of schools doing the pirate Grace O'Malley. There are some really good stories out there."


Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Guy Fawkes, John Lennon, Neil Armstrong, Bessie Coleman, the first black woman aviator, Ruby Bridges, the six-year-old girl involved in opening up schools during the Civil Rights movement, Frederick Douglass, a black slave who taught himself to read, fled north and ended up an adviser to President Lincoln, Walter Tull, Britain's first black football striker.

Pick your own

Think about potential role models, possibly someone from the local area

Remember you can select just part of someone's story

Check what resources are available

Would they fit in with other subjects, eg, citizenship?

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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