History lessons must get up to date

20th July 2007 at 01:00
history lessons focus on too few topics and leave pupils unable to answer the "big questions", say school inspectors. Children do not understand the chronology of what they have studied and cannot make links between important historical events, Ofsted has found.

The subject needs to be more relevant to children from different ethnic backgrounds. If taught differently, history could play an important role in tackling racism, the report said. Christine Gilbert, the head of Ofsted, said the curriculum needed to be more inclusive and reflect the diversity of the UK.

English history dominates, with Scottish, Welsh and Irish history largely ignored, inspectors said. Black history is relegated to slavery and immigration and special events such as 'Black history month'.

"In many schools, the stories of the people who have come to Britain over the centuries are ignored, even though these include the personal histories of some of the pupils," the report said.

Too much emphasis is placed on a small number of issues, inspectors said. Pupils learn about Victorian times, Henry VIII and his wives and the Aztecs, but cannot form an overall narrative.

Teaching about the First and Second World Wars can be too negative about Germany and Japan because it does not make reference to their development since. The new secondary curriculum, announced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, calls for pupils to be given a "secure chronological framework".

Scott Baker, head of history at Robert Clack comprehensive in Dagenham, Essex, and a member of the QCA group that devised the new key stage 3 curriculum, said Ofsted raised important issues.

"Current practice is not necessarily joined up, which means children don't always leave with a sense of the big picture," he said.

"The new approach is less prescriptive and presented around topics to encourage a more coherent approach."

Mr Baker said it was important for pupils to revisit themes. For example, the British empire could be studied in different contexts.

Sir Keith Ajegbo, who led a government review of citizenship teaching, has proposed compulsory British history for GCSE pupils.

"History and citizenship should be working together to address subjects like the history of immigration," said Sir Keith. "There is an important debate to be had about what nationality means in the modern world."

The quality of history teaching is regularly praised by Ofsted. But inspectors found marked differences between the quality of teaching in primary and secondary schools.

Primary teachers lack the knowledge to develop the subject properly, meaning pupils make slow progress. Few primary teachers are specialist historians and time devoted to the subject during teacher training is limited, the report said.

Secondary school teachers find it difficult to pitch their lessons at the correct level because of the variable quality of lessons in primaries.

Despite this, pupils make good progress. Two-thirds achieved an A* to C grade at GCSE last year compared to 61 per cent in all subjects. However, take-up is limited, with only just over 30 per cent of today's pupils opting to take the subject.

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