'Gallop through the past' could be a bumpy ride

15th February 2013 at 00:00
Critics take aim at 'unworkable' plans for history curriculum

Michael Gove has long advertised his love of history and his wish for schools to teach a broader sweep of the subject beyond repeated lessons on the Tudors and the Second World War. But the education secretary's planned changes to history teaching, revealed to Parliament last week, have drawn the strongest criticism of all the proposed reforms to the national curriculum.

The Historical Association has damned the changes for being overly prescriptive and a "gallop through the past" that does not allow for enough in-depth study. Concerns have also been raised about whether primary school teachers are sufficiently well trained to deliver the new programmes of study.

Under the proposals, which are now under consultation, history will be taught sequentially, starting with the Stone Age in Year 3 and progressing to the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 by the end of Year 6. From 2014, Victorian or 20th-century history, including the Second World War, will no longer be taught in primary schools.

The proposals say seven- to 14-year-olds pupils should be taught about the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome. They set out the "essential chronology of Britain's history", which is to serve as a framework for more in-depth study. The list includes the heptarchy (the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England), the Black Death and the Peasants' Revolt.

The structure is a marked departure from the current curriculum for key stage 2, which states that children should carry out a number of studies of people and places in their local areas, as well as wider British, European and world history.

The content for five- to seven-year-olds has not changed radically, although the government is suggesting that children should learn about concepts such as "civilisation, monarchy, parliament, democracy, war and peace", in addition to studying Florence Nightingale and key festivals.

Announcing the proposals to MPs, Mr Gove said: "In history there is a clear narrative of British progress with a proper emphasis on heroes and heroines from our past."

But Mel Jones, education manager at the Historical Association, said the proposed changes would not "do anything to improve history teaching in our schools".

"We were promised a slimmed down curriculum and got something that is wholly prescriptive, which raises a whole host of issues," she said. "It is going to create a huge training need in primary schools. Where is the money to provide new resources and training to go with it? And it is unworkable with the level of content that teachers are expected to deliver.

"I know the government says it is just a core and teachers can build their own curriculum around it, but history does not receive adequate teaching time for that to be the case. This is nothing more than a gallop through the past."

Chris Husbands, director of the University of London's Institute of Education and a former history teacher, said in his blog that children would be taught only the stories of history, rather than carrying out their own historical research. He described the proposed curriculum as "chronicle rather than history".

Alison Peacock, head of the Wroxham School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, and leader of the Cambridge Primary Review network, said there were a lot of changes across the new primary curriculum that schools would need to take on board.

"The job of work in redesigning the school curriculum to meet these new programmes of study should not be underestimated if you want quality, if you want more than simply buying a book off the shelf," she said. "Teachers will have to learn new sections of history and computer science; they will have to prepare for increased demand in maths and fit in a new language."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said it was currently considering the question of what training and resources would be needed. "We are also working closely with a range of people, including teaching schools, subject associations and publishers of school resources to make sure that high-quality support is available and that any changes in the curriculum are reflected within all existing teacher training programmes," she said.

Key questions

Is this the final version of the new national curriculum?

Not definitely. The programmes are out for consultation until 16 April 2013.

When do I need to start teaching it?

Under the proposals the curriculum will become law from September 2014. A final version is due to be available in the autumn.

What will happen this year?

The government has said that from September 2013 the current national curriculum will be suspended in secondaries, allowing teachers to prepare for the 2014 changes. In primaries, the current programmes of study, attainment targets and assessment arrangements will be lifted for Years 3 and 4 in English, maths and science.

For other primary subjects, all programmes of study and attainment targets will be lifted for all year groups.

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