Andrew Adonis, schools minister, said that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority had submitted its first drafts of new programmes of study, as part of its review of the history curriculum for 11 to 14-year-olds.
"These draft programmes propose to reduce the degree of central prescription, particularly the perceived requirement to teach history in chronological blocks rather than by developing themes, and deal with the study of local history as teachers feel appropriate," he said during a House of Lords debate.
Lord Adonis said that the Government wanted to see history GCSE courses with a minimum of 25 per cent British content, although he had been assured that in most exams this was already the case. Ministers have already agreed such a requirement at A-level with the QCA. But he rejected calls to make history a compulsory subject up to the age of 16, rather than 14 as it is now. There was, he said, a proposal to include British history in citizenship lessons, which are compulsory to 16. This would not be about tagging a "potted history" course on to the end of citizenship, but about how modern British history could strengthen pupils' understanding of British values and institutions.
David Willetts, shadow education secretary, said: "While we agree that there needs to be a broader scope for teaching history in schools, there is much more to teaching history than solely according to themes.
"We welcome moves to allow teachers greater freedom to teach their own lessons and enthuse their pupils. But we should not lose sight of what needs to be achieved - a greater and clearer understanding of our national history, free from the cherry-picking of historical periods that often takes place."
Heather Scott, chair of the Historical Association's secondary committee, had concerns about any move away from a chronological approach. "If you teach thematically, pupils have still got to be able to understand the bigger picture," she said.
The Bishop of Norwich called for history to have a stronger place in the curriculum as a subject in its own right. "I suggest that instead of thrashing around to find out what Britishness is all about - which is often reduced to a vague belief in tolerance and the importance of queuing - we already have in the teaching of history its darker side as well as its better side; a vehicle for a better-informed electorate," he said.