Downgrading history

25th November 2005 at 00:00
Your clarification that Peter Peacock, the Education MInister, is not proposing to downgrade history as a discrete subject in S1-S2 is to be welcomed -although, given the wording of the original report of his remarks about "not teaching it in a timetabled slot marked history", it is understandable that people read that meaning into it.

As history teachers, we have no wish to isolate the subject in an ivory tower. The nature of history makes us well aware of the seamless cloth of knowledge and the importance of a coherent educational experience for our young people, including cross-curricular links, to further the development of their individual and social qualities.

At the moment, as far as most teachers and the public are aware, A Curriculum for Excellence is a statement of an overall approach to education, together with a set of general aims and objectives with which few, if any, would disagree. Translating these general aims and objectives into a practical curriculum is a challenging task in which history teachers, if given the chance, are only too willing to be involved.

We would be failing in our duty, however, if we failed to respond to any perceived attempts to undermine or downgrade such a vital area of learning as history. We are reassured that Mr Peacock is not advocating the demotion of history.

But we remain concerned that, given the apparent intention to devolve more curricular decision-making to local level, individual headteachers and local authorities will be tempted to see this as an opportunity to take curricular decisions on grounds of cost and timetabling convenience, rather than on the basis of educational imperatives.

Recent experience suggests that smaller departments such as history can be seen as relatively easy targets when it comes to such "rationalisation".

Given this, the curriculum review should, if anything, be seeking to strengthen the position of history, especially in view of its immense potential contribution to furthering the four main aims of A Curriculum for Excellence -creating successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

How can any of these be achieved without history? Furthermore, it should not be delivered as a series of add-ons in other areas, but as a coherent and recognisable body of historical knowledge, understanding and skills.

Sam Henry President, Scottish Association of Teachers of History

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