Academies 'undoing good work' in boosting history studies

11th June 2010 at 01:00
Academic-turned-MP warns that as schools flock to change status, it could become minority subject

A leading TV historian and Labour MP has warned that the coalition Government is risking reducing history to a minority subject by encouraging a huge growth in academy numbers.

Tristram Hunt is worried that research into existing academies suggests that history and geography have ceased to be mainstream subjects post-14 in many of the state funded independent schools.

The academic, elected to Parliament for the first time last month, believes the new Government's plans to extend academy status to hundreds of existing state schools could exacerbate the problem.

The Government does not collect detailed figures on academies' exam entries and they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

Dr Hunt, who lectures in British history at Queen Mary, University of London, said it was "shocking and disturbing" that some academies had as few as 6 per cent of eligible pupils entered for history GCSE.

"My concern is that they are moving from academic topics to vocational qualifications to increase their grade rates," he said.

The historian, who has presented TV programmes on the English civil war and Isaac Newton, was last year praised by Michael Gove, the new Education Secretary, for helping to inform children about history.

Mr Gove mentioned Dr Hunt while talking to the Conservative Home website about his concern that "the number of children studying history beyond 14 has fallen to less than one pupil in three".

Research by Civitas has suggested that the figures are even worse in many academies.

Last year, the think tank asked all existing academies to provide details of the exams they had entered pupils for. Among the 16 academies prepared to release the information, the highest proportion of a cohort entered for history GCSE was 39 per cent. In two academies it was just 6 per cent.

There was a similar situation in geography GCSE where the highest proportion was 38 per cent and one academy had no entries in the subject at all out of a cohort of 147.

The research found academies were often ignoring academic GCSEs in favour of qualifications like OCR's level 2 national certificate in travel and tourism, where pupils can learn about the responsibilities of an airline cabin crew.

Anastasia de Waal, deputy director of Civitas, said: "While we fondly imagine academies to be mimicking the excellence of the private sector, Ian at Academy X is in fact studying a travel brochure and what air stewards do while Petronella at Lofty Towers studies the Glorious Revolution and what the Tudors and Stuarts did.

"A decline in academic subjects is affecting all state schools... But surely the point of academies, particularly in the reins of Gove, is to turn the weaknesses in education around - not to entrench them."

Dr Hunt said: "Michael Gove is a friend of history, a scholar of the 18th century, and about to embark upon... a welcome reordering of the history curriculum. But his current policies of allowing academies a range of unaccountable freedoms risks undoing all that good work before it has even begun."

Nick Gibb, schools minister, said: "We are clear that the thorough teaching of history is crucial for a broad and balanced curriculum."

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