Critics say the curriculum fails to look beyond Dover's White Cliffs, reports Diane Spencer.
The nation's schoolchildren will grow up ignorant of Europe because the national curriculum ignores the continent, says a report out this week by the Federal Trust, an educational charity.
Frances Morrell, author of the report and former leader of the Inner London Education Authority, found it "startling" that maps failed to identify the European Union and the history study unit on the 20th century did not include the establishment of the European Community.
Even when Europe was mentioned "the links are very fragile", she said. "There was an extraordinary paucity of references to Europe. If you're growing up in Peru, would teachers disguise the fact that you are part of South America?" She said: "What the national curriculum lacks, when viewed as an educational text rather than a political one, is a coherent conceptual and strategic view of Europe and its successive civilisations."
Mrs Morrell, a researcher at the trust, thought the Government's educational strategy was in conflict with its economic goals and in danger of breaching the Maastricht Treaty which laid down a legal framework for the European dimension in education which requires member states to improve young people's knowledge of the community.
She accused Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, of being "intellectually in a bit of a muddle", referring to his recent statements about how the curriculum should reinforce the British heritage.
The case for reintegrating the European dimension into the national curriculum was not in conflict with education about national history and culture; it was complementary to it and essential for its success, she said. "In other words, a false choice is posed by Dr Tate's formulation."
The report, Continent Isolated, calls for the European dimension to be reinstated after the five-year moratorium on curriculum changes. It was originally a cross-curricular theme. Peter Downes, former president of the Secondary Heads Association, who contributed to the report, said they were not arguing for a particular partisan view on Europe. "But if the next generation doesn't learn about it they will be more vulnerable to propaganda and I think they are being short-changed."
"The enlightened head with internationally minded governors and well-qualified teachers will ensure that the European dimension figures in the life of the school. But there will be schools where the head is hard-pressed and the curriculum will shrink to what is specified.
"We in this country have to start thinking positively of ourselves as part of Europe and that revolution in our thinking has to start in schools."
SCAA said both history and geography had strong international dimensions and the cross-curricular themes were never statutory in force. "Given schools' complaints about the overload in content of the original national curriculum, the extent of take-up of the additional approaches to the curriculum in the themes has always been doubtful. Schools arguably have more opportunities to adopt such approaches now," said a spokesperson.
The resolution of the EC ministers of education of May 1988, confirmed by Parliament in 1993 when it ratified the Maastricht Treaty, says young people should be taught to have a strong sense of European identity, understand the value of European civilisation, safeguard the principles of democracy, safeguard social justice, respect human rights, participate as citizens, understand the social and economic development of the European Union, know the history of EU and its members, the significance of EU and the role of EU in the world.
In addition, Article 126 of the treaty lays down a legal framework for language teaching, mobility of students and teachers, recognition of diplomas, promoting exchanges and cooperation between educational establishments, and encouraging the development of distance education.
When the original national curriculum was being devised after the 1988 Education Reform Act, efforts were made to ensure that a European dimension was included. The National Curriculum Council set up a working group which produced a paper setting citizenship in a European and global context. A sub-group mapped out elements of the dimension in drafts of the main subjects produced by other groups. But the revised national curriculum of 1995 virtually eliminated any reference to it, despite representations to SCAA from the geographical and history associations.
The Dearing review eliminated geography and history as compulsory subjects at key stage 4 and made the overall curriculum slimmer, less prescriptive and more ethnocentric. British history was given increased emphasis at key stage 1; but geography, which had nearly 200 attainment targets, was the most altered subject along with technology.
A SCAA spokeswoman said that children were still required to recognise European countries on the map and study one of them in detail. "The number of lines dedicated to Europe in the [curriculum] Orders looks less, but that was part of the Dearing philosophy of revising the Orders with less detail. "
Since the new curriculum was phased in last year, Dr Tate has consistently emphasised the importance of British culture at the heart of the curriculum.
"Continent Isolated: a study of the European dimension in the national curriculum in England" is available from BEBC Distribution at Pounds 9. 95. Telephone 0800 262260 to order.