Home Office gets its history wrong

28th April 2006 at 01:00
Scholars blast mistakes in new immigrants' guide and say very idea of an officialhistory is alien to British tradition

Which came first: Cromwell's victory over Charles II at Worcester or his invasion of Scotland?

It may not be the most significant historical question ever posed. But there can be no getting away from the importance of correct chronological order in a subject where so much is about cause and effect.

In the case of the Home Office published booklet, Life in the United Kingdom. A Journey to Citizenship, the Historical Association says it has got it wrong, and not just once.

The association, a 100-year-old body representing leading historians in schools and universities, submitted a seven-page list of corrections when it first became aware of the book in May 2005.

The Home Office says time and, perhaps more importantly, the cost of completely redesigning the guide, meant that it was only possible to make the corrections for the next reprint.

This means that the latest edition of the guide, aimed at immigrants and those helping them to integrate into British society, is still "riddled"

with errors that the Government knew about a year ago, the association says.

It is a shame as the booklet's first chapter manages to sum up the entire history of the UK in a readable, accessible way. It is just not quite right.

The rest of the booklet contains a wealth of practical and background information likely to prove useful to the newcomer. Tips include the need to offer to buy someone a drink if you spill their drink in a pub and how to apply for a national insurance number.

The Home Office acknowledges that many new immigrants are using it to prepare for the citizenship tests that they now have to sit.

But a spokesman stressed that this is not the case for the chapter on history, which does not feature in the test. Professor Sir Bernard Crick, the government citizenship adviser who wrote the chapter, has dismissed the association's criticisms as "quibbles".

Se n Lang, historical secretary of the association, unsurprisingly disagrees.

He also believes there are more fundamental issues at stake. First, he says, the book, which is being bundled with school textbooks by retailers, could end up misinforming school citizenship lessons.

Second, the association feels the publication - which has a Home Office logo on its cover but no authors' names to indicate that the account inside is someone's personal view - looks like an official government history.

"It looks official, it feels official and it will be going to people from countries which do have official histories," he said.

"The whole idea of an official history is something which is very alien to our traditions in this country and something the Historical Association is very opposed to.

"It means the government of the day can impose its view of the past on people who are not really in a position to check the accuracy of the claim.

It can end up as something dangerous, one-sided and highly inflammatory.

There have been riots over history textbooks used in Japan."

Sir Bernard points out that the book's preface does say he wrote the history chapter.

He adds that the booklet was not published by the Home Office, but on behalf of the Life in the United Kingdom advisory group that he chaired.

"It isn't official," he said. "It was from an independent advisory committee."

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

Segn Lang PLATFORM 21

Historic blunders?

Errors in the guide written by Sir Bernard Crick, spotted by the Historical Association:

Sir Bernard: St Augustine and his Roman monks arrived at the same time as Irish missionaries in the North.

Historical Association: St Augustine came a long time afterwards.

SB: "The Celts were pushed to the western fringes of Britain" (by the Saxon invasions). HA: Not true. Some moved west, some moved north, most stayed put.

SB: Queen Mary "came to the throne with Spanish support".

HA: Mary defeated Lady Jane Grey's bid to usurp the throne with a huge wave of English support.

SB: Charles II had no heirs.

HA: He had no children, but he had legitimate heirs, his brother James and his children.

SB: Charles II was recalled from exile in France. HA: He was recalled from Holland.

SB: Both the main parties split over the Corn Laws. HA: The Tories split but not the Whigs.

SB: Clement Atlee's post-war Labour government wanted to end colonial rule.

HA: It wanted to maintain it and make it more efficient.

SB: Labour was in power under Harold Wilson from 1974 to 1979. HA: Wilson was PM from 1974 to 1976, when he resigned and was succeeded by James Callaghan.

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