Future for historical variety

THANKS. At the end of a busy week I was glad to know that the subject I love and have tried to bring alive in the classroom for the past 10 years is now "narrow and limited" at A-level, and held in contempt by somebody called Robert Tombs (TES, June 28).

The TES does little to offer much in the way of balance in the piece, other than haul out Nick Tate who shines his ray of light on the subject ("consumer choice" indeed). But, however much it makes me see red, that fact is that there is more than a little truth in the complaints.

I am not sure who is to blame. Sean Lang has, in the past, written of his concern about history becoming "Hitler-ised", and those of us who have long held the view that the 20th century seems to dominate A-level would agree.

Yet should the finger be pointed at the exam boards who will of course follow the market, the makers of the never-ending stream of programmes about Hitler, Stalin or world wars 1 and 2. Is it the fault of our society and its almost obsessive tendency to gravitate towards such topics (important though they are)? Or does the blame lie with history teachers themselves?

As a member of a department at a comprehensive school (you may remember them?) that promotes a course including The Enlightenment, American and French revolutions, British social history, the unifications of Italy and Germany and the impact of the Chartist movement I would argue we provide more than enough breadth for students wishing to read history at university. Indeed, one first- year student now at Cambridge was awarded the history prize this year. Another wrote back from Edinburgh telling of her surprise that "much of what we are doing we had already covered back at school!"

I say this not to brag but to make the point that not all history departments have given in to the "MTV generation" (do such stereotypes help anybody?) or have bowed to "consumer choice". Perhaps what is needed is a little more imagination on the part of some history departments, to sell "history from before the war". Oh, I know. The textbooks have been bought now. The schemes of work have been written (hopefully!). We know this course inside out.

Well, all right. But if we continue to adopt such an approach, there will be fewer and fewer newly-qualified teachers coming back into the classroom that can do anything but maintain this cycle. And fewer and fewer students leaving our classrooms who are aware of the rich seam of history that lies beneath the world of totalitarianism.

The Historical Association has done a superb job in promoting the teaching and learning of history at key stages 3 and 4. Perhaps it can lead the way by examining ways of enriching the choice and diversity that could be offered to A-level students in order to avoid this supposedly "impoverished education".

David Atkin Head of history Chipping Campden school Cidermill Lane Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

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