Don't we deserve a history?

27th April 2001 at 01:00
Children should not be deprived of the right to learn about their heritage and the society they live in by the tyranny of the subject column, says Alexis Scott

am the parent of a boy who will be 14 this summer. We live in Livingston and he was recently given the opportunity to choose the subjects he will study to Standard grade next year. What should have been a genuine choice has turned out to be bordering on the farcical.

Each student must "choose" five subjects (in addition to the compulsory French, English and maths), which at first glance appears reasonable. However, each choice must be from one column and the majority of subjects on offer are vocational, not academic. It is possible to do business education, administration, computing, craft design and technology and one science subject. It is not, however, possible to study both history and geography.

When I pointed out at a meeting (which was not a consultation meeting - the limitations on"choice" had already been made) the importance of history, especially social history, as a subject for all students, in particular the legacy of our ancestors, of the horrendous battles of the First World War, of the Holocaust, not surprisingly no one was able to answer me. By contrast, a parent who complained about the study of a foreign language being compulsory was given a sympathetic hearing.

I have since met with the headteacher, made the usual written protests via my MSP and local councillor, pointing out that any civilisation requires an understanding of its history, of the individual's place in society, all to no avail. The response is that there is no demand to study both history and geography, and that to offer both is uneconomic. I am not convinced.

Children at 13 and 14 are often easily manipulated by adults as well as their peers, and it is doubtless tempting for schools to offer "easy", vocational subjects which will make them look good in the league tables.

I am aged 45. I was born and brought up by working-class parents in a poor neighbourhood in Derry, Northern Ireland, an attended a grammar school before going on to university at 18. Until recently I believed implicitly in comprehensive education and in many ways I still do.

The problem is that we do not have a comprehensive education system. There have been protests in England at David Blunkett's attempts to introduce vocational education for less able students but we already have this in Scotland and it is being pushed at more, as well as less, able students, under the guise of a "broad" education when it is nothing but discrimination against those who cannot afford to live in areas of expensive housing where children can even go on to do A-levels as well as having a greater choice in academic subjects.

The current system is fine for politicians whose children can attend the London Oratory or, in Glasgow, Jordanhill School, or, in Edinburgh, James Gillespie's , but those of us who still value education in its own right and have none the less failed (I suppose that is how the politicians must see it) to meet the economic criteria to enable our children to attend such oversubscribed schools must do with second best.

In the early seventies, most of us probably believed things could only get better. The teaching of history itself was beginning to change from the lives of "great men" to understanding political movements and social groups. Women's history was at last coming on to the agenda. Last but not least, in Northern Ireland it was also a very turbulent time, one of great historical significance, and the learning of history can only help to put such happenings in context. In a very real sense the young generation are growing up more ignorant than my parents about their history.

I am appalled that my own children have received, and are receiving, an inferior education to my own. Whether young people become plumbers, roadsweepers, computer programmers or academics, they all have a right to their history, to their understanding of the individual's place in society.

History should not have to compete with geography. It is every child's right.

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