History lessons for all society

16th May 2003 at 01:00
IT is not just history teachers who should be concerned about the trend described in your article "A bleak future for history" (TES, April 25).

I have recently returned from a conference of history teachers in Bologna where I discovered that now only the UK and Iceland (no longer Albania) fail to have history as an entitlement for all pupils to the age of 16.

The main reason why our European colleagues give historyhumanities a higher status is that they realise that no other subjects provide the knowledge and understanding of how human beings relate and should relate in societies, how societies have evolved and why some forms of society are preferable to others. They see this knowledge and understanding, rightly, as central to education, not as a peripheral option.

What has gone wrong in the UK is that recent governments, obsessed by the notion that "education, education, education" is about economic competitiveness, have forgotten that it must have a vital civilising role.

We are all the losers by this amnesia.

One of the benefits of ageing is one can watch the received opinions of governments flourish and decay. There is little or no correlation between educational systems and economic success. Some readers will remember how in the 1970s governments exhorted us to learn from Japan and in the 1980s from the Asian tigers. One only has to do a simple calculation to realise that most of those responsible for the UK's present comparative economic success, now aged between 30 and 60, were educated in those benighted pre-national curriculum days with flexible teacher-controlled curricula.

Fortunately, Education Secretary Charles Clarke seems to realise the dangerous aridity of emphasis on the core and on vocational options. The emergence of the humanities specialism is a small step in the right direction, the greater flexibility of the 14 to 19 curriculum a larger one.

Better still would be an even greater flexibility with RE no longer compulsory.

By this greater flexibility and marginally less emphasis on the core subjects, history and the humanities would flourish once more. The next generation of pupils would be the gainers and so too would the society to which they will contribute.

Martin Roberts Former headteacher 29 Frenchay Road, Oxford

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