History is more than Hitler

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Study of Germany's past must get up-to-date, says minister. Warwick Mansell and Michael Shaw report

Pupils should learn more about the fall of the Berlin Wall and less about why it was built, Charles Clarke said this week amid criticism that the curriculum puts too much emphasis on Hitler.

Complaints that children do not study enough recent German history were put to him during a recent visit to the country, the Education Secretary told socialist historians in London.

But he promised not to dictate to schools or universities exactly what they taught, adding: "I'm not Stalin."

His comments come as the Historical Association disclosed that it is launching a government-funded study which could lead to less time in schools being spent on the 20th-century dictators. Mr Clarke said he felt that more study was needed in the UK on Germany's recent history, particularly its unification after the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989.

However, he said that schools needed to cover the Second World War and they could invite people with first-hand experiences of the conflict to speak to pupils.

He also spoke of his personal concern about the lack of UK academic study of the Baltic states. His wife's mother was Estonian, he said, and he had difficulty finding information on events in the country between the two world wars.

The Historical Association said this week it is to design what could become a blueprint for a new curriculum in the subject. It will write a paper advising on the content of the history component of a new baccalaureate-style diploma, which could replace A-levels and GCSEs by 2010.

The paper comes after years of complaints from some academics about what they see as an over-emphasis on Hitler and Stalin in secondary schools.

Sean Lang, who is on the association's secondary committee and will lead the project, said that Hitler, in particular, dominated at GCSE and then at A-level, at the expense of other subjects including English history.

Pupils tended to study the Nazis in Year 9. Then both major courses at GCSE offered them the chance to do so again. At A-level, the subject was also prevalent. Mr Lang said: "Things have got badly out of line. You would never have planned the situation we have now, with its endless repetition.

"It becomes a cycle. People do Hitler at school, then more at university, they go back into school as teachers, and do not feel confident enough to teach anything else."

Under the old A-level, students used to take one of their two papers on English history. Now they tended to take only one module out of six on the subject.

Professor Niall Ferguson, the New York university don and TV historian, has called for study of the British empire to be put at the heart of the curriculum. However, Mr Lang said the subject would need to address issues such as the imperial experiences of non-whites.

Work will start on the study in the new year, with a report due a year later. Any changes would have to be approved by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Government.

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