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David Starkey: 'Schools show contempt for memory and facts'


The contempt shown toward teaching the importance of “memory” is the source of most of the “disasters in modern education”, the controversial TV historian and author David Starkey has said.

Mr Starkey, who has hosted a range of popular history programmes on the monarchy, says one of the main failings of the country’s education system is an “ingrained contempt” of memory and facts.

Writing in this week’s TES, the celebrity historian says: “One of the prime purposes of education should be to discipline memory and teach you how to use it. To do this, pupils and students need to learn facts. Without the ability to retain distinct pieces of information and then perceive their connections, you simply cannot argue and you cannot debate.”

Memory, he adds, is not merely about learning to recite the dates of the kings and queens of England, but rather about being able to connect apparently disparate facts.

The changes Michael Gove has made to the history curriculum are a step in the right direction, Mr Starkey writes, but the education secretary is battling a deep-seated belief that facts are not important.

“In particular, he is fighting the ingrained contempt we have shown in British education for memory and the need to know. And this contempt is the source of most of the disasters in modern education,” he says.

Read the full comment piece in the 13 June edition of TES on your tablet or phone by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Subscribe to the magazine here. Or pick it up in all good newsagents.

Next week on TES, we have History Week, focusing on the changes to the national curriculum. Have a look at what the week has in store at

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