Education is not just economics

9th March 2001 at 00:00
AS a senior manager in a specialist technology college in the mid-1990s, I did not fear for the historical education of our pupils.

At key stage 3, history and geography each had two hours a week. At GCSE, every pupil was required to take either history or geography. In the sixth form, students took a compulsory course blending aspects of PSE, general studies, history and politics.

We taught our specialist Year 12 technology and science students about conflicting political traditions and gave them historical context for reflecting on moral dilemmas, especially those that might face a scientist.

At A-level, all arts and humanities subjects were offered, and new subjects, such as philosophy, could be taken up. All managers were committed to a strong role for the humanities, not only in securing a broad, balanced education, but also in serving our specialist technology emphasis.

It seems like a foreign country now, as stories of concerned history teachers pour in to the Historical Association.

It is all very well for ministers to repeat the mantra that the national curriculum is still in place. In many schools, at the level of real pupil experience, it is not. History teachers are not encouraged when their key stage 3 time is cut to an hour; when they are told not to encourage the less able to takeGCSE history (for it will lower the school's five A to C rate); and when they may not encourage the more able (for these must specialise in science).

So history teachers must have choked on their coffee to read Sir Cyril Taylor's terrifying remark that "the gross national product will not be helped by having a lot of history graduates" (TES, February 23). History graduates are not at issue; it is an entitlement to a meaningful historical education for all. It is not the GNP that it is at stake; it is the continuing, urgent battle to secure the right of the least able child to informed opinion, intellectual growth and active citizenship. These things require historical consciousness.

The lack of emphasis on history and geography in the Green Paper is a slap in the face for history teachers who have been at the forefront of driving the cross-curricular extension of the National Literacy Strategy at key stage 3.

History teachers' anger is born out of a growing belief that their commitment to objectives that the Government claims to hold dear - social inclusion, literacy, moral, social and cultural development, critical thinking - is neither valued, acknowledged nor even understood.

Christine Counsell

Deputy president Historical Association

School of Education University of Cambridge


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