Going down in history

20th February 1998 at 00:00
1066 and all that could soon be a thing of the past for most pupils. Harvey McGavin looks at the campaign to give history a future on the curriculum Besieged historians are battling to end the curriculum squeeze on their subject. The Campaign for History - a Historical Association-led drive to lift the profile of the subject launched last week - aims to reassert children's right to study history up to age 18.

The campaign says government moves to drop non-core subjects in favour of extra literacy lessons at primary level are compounded by the GCSE options system, which allows pupils to give up the subject at 14. With the exception of Albania, the UK is the only country in Europe where history is not compulsory beyond this age.

The battle is being waged on several fronts. Leaflets and briefing sheets are going out to teachers, parents, pupils and governors in an effort to move history back up the educational agenda.

The campaign aims to emphasise history's across-the-board value - as a tool for learning literacy, communicating, arguing, researching or analysing, and as a subject essential to our understanding of the modern world, teaching us about culture, politics, morality and citizenship.

"The right to study history is being seriously eroded at all levels," says association president Professor Chris Wrigley.

The subject is being squeezed off the post-14 timetable by vocational subjects, he says, and some schools are already reporting staffing problems, following slumps in the number of weekly classes. "Once history becomes optional, headteachers faced with having to replace staff are going to replace them in areas that are compulsory."

Without urgent action history could soon be downgraded to a minority subject, he warns. "Teachers believe the subject will soon be taught by maths teachers who do a bit of history on the side." Moves to devote more time to literacy in primary schools need not mean the end of the subject, he suggests. Instead, literacy sessions could be incorporated into history classes.

The squeeze on humanities in schools is having "the unfortunate side-effect of denying less able children the chance to study it", Professor Wrigley says. "History could become an option just for the brightest rather than being for everyone."

You're History, the campaign's leaflet aimed at pupils, stresses the vocational options available to history students, among them town planning, tourism, journalism, accountancy, policing and restoration work. But the campaign is careful to avoid antagonising other subjects jostling for space on the timetable, and says department heads should join forces with geography teachers to defend the humanities.

"We are not out to knock other subjects," Professor Wrigley insists. "We want to ensure that students have the choice of studying. At the moment they don't."

The greatest story ever told:

'And Then...A History of the World' (AladdinWatts, Pounds 12.99) is billed as 'History without the boring bits'. But there is concern that soon primary pupils may not get to learn about the interesting bits either

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