Another brick from the Wall

7th April 1995 at 01:00
Martin Roberts on a network that is helping teachers from former Iron Curtain countries develop balanced history courses.

The immense political and ideological changes in Europe in the past decade have caused equally immense changes to the history curricula in many European nations, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. School history is seen to be extremely important in the creation of new national and democratic identities.

In response to these changes, in 1992 the European Union introduced a new range of funding initiatives, one of which is the PHARETACIS programme. Its aim is to promote democratic values in Eastern Europe.

Euroclio, the Standing Conference of European Teachers' Associations, of which the Historical Association and the Association of History Teachers in Scotland are members, made a successful bid to this programme in 1994 and has up to 150,000 ecus (around Pounds 120,000 depending on the rate of exchange) to spend on a teacher exchange programme involving England, Scotland, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Holland and Slovakia.

Euroclio (named after the Greek muse of history) has 31 member associations and exists to bring into productive contact practising history teachers from all over Europe.

It is convinced that such contacts will stimulate teachers to teach in more informed, balanced and stimulating ways and that old prejudices will be destroyed.

Led by its president, Joke van der Leeuw-Roord of VGN, the Dutch history teachers' association, and encouraged by Maitland Stobart of the Council of Europe, Euroclio was created in 1993 with the aim of involving more teachers in international conferences on the teaching of history. At its annual conference in Bruges in 1994, representatives of the member associations in the six countries agreed to make a submission for PHARE funds.

Through a series of teacher exchanges we aim to reach a better understanding of the connections between school history and the appreciation of democratic values and to strengthen the network across Europe of history teacher-associations - non-governmental organisations which are proud of their independence.

Ninety teachers, 15 from each of the six countries, are taking part. Each country takes it in turn to organise a study week, attended by three teachers from the other five. The first two study weeks, in The Netherlands and Denmark, have already taken place, the third is in the Czech Republic this month, the fourth in Slovakia in May. Ian McKellar of the University of Strathclyde will co-ordinate the Scottish week in September and Chris Husbands of the University of East Anglia and I will co-ordinate the English one in October.

Each of the study programmes is being shaped around school visits and meetings with curriculum institutes, assessment centres, ministries of education and educational publishers. The project will end with a short plenary conference in Prague in December, the prime aim of which will be to draft in pamphlet form reflections and recommendations to the European Union, the Council of Europe, Euroclio and our national associations. These will include practical suggestions on how the best elements of this scheme can be replicated for a greater number of teachers across the continent.

Those English and Scottish teachers who participated in the Dutch and Danish study weeks have returned from their visits thoroughly stimulated. The great variety of practice across the Continent is thought-provoking in itself. So too is the readiness of other nations to link history in schools much more explicitly than we do to the encouragement of human rights and democratic consciousness. In the debates in England during the 1980s about the place of history which led up to the national curriculum, we veered away from a similar approach, leaving a vacuum which the "Citizenship" project of the Speaker of the House of Commons has failed so far to fill.

Did we then, as history teachers, make a major strategic error and might not both history and the encouragement of democratic values have now much higher status, especially in key stage 4, if we had made much clearer how essential school history is to a healthy democracy?

o Teachers who want to find out more about the PHARE programme should contact The European Human Rights Foundation on behalf of the European Commission (EHRF), 70 Avenue Michel-Ange, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium Martin Roberts is a member of the board of Euroclio, editor of its twice yearly bulletin, and headteacher at Cherwell School, Oxford

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