Infants make a move towards Britain

11th November 1994 at 00:00
History. The main changes are in structure rather than emphasis, says Biddy Passmore. One of John Patten's few lasting legacies to schools may be the insertion of explicit references to British history into the curriculum for five to seven-year-olds.

In his letter launching the consultation on the draft curriculum proposals in May, the then Secretary of State said he proposed "to clarify the intention that pupils should be specifically required to study British history at key stage 1."

So young pupils are now to learn, for instance, about the lives of famous men and women, "including personalities drawn from British history", although there is nothing to stop them studying people, events and stories from other cultures.

The overall balance between British and foreign history, the subject of much debate during the consultation exercise, remains much the same as in the current Order. Some teachers wanted more European history at KS2 and some, at KS3, wanted more opportunities to set British history in its European context and felt that Europe and the rest of the world had been marginalised by being excluded from core units in the draft proposals.

But the only concrete result of this debate has been the insertion of a statement at KS2 and KS3 that pupils should be given opportunities to study "aspects of the histories of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales" and that, where appropriate, "the history of Britain should be set in its European and world context".

In fact, the main changes in the history curriculum have been not of emphasis but of structure: further slimming down of content at KS2 and KS3 and a general simplification of structure and standardisation of language. The term "study unit" is now used throughout.

One of the main problems facing the working group charged with revising the history curriculum was the ending of the requirement to study history at KS4.

This meant that large areas of 20th-century history, which constituted the KS4 curriculum, had to be squeezed into the preceding stages so that pupils dropping the subject at 14 did not miss them altogether. At the same time, for those pupils carrying on history, the group wanted to avoid too much overlap between KS3 and modern world GCSE courses.

The solution they adopted was to put the material into study units 3 (Britain 1750-circa 1900) and 4 (The 20th-century World), which require pupils to be given an overview of the main events, personalities and developments in those periods, while allowing maximum flexibility to study one or more aspects in depth in each unit. Examples of studies in depth include the Napoleonic Wars, relations between Ireland and Britain, the Russian Revolution and the Welfare State.

During consultation, some teachers felt these study units were overloaded or too conceptually difficult and many worried about what was meant by teaching "in outline". Others were concerned about the over-emphasis on war. Nearly a thousand letters were received from members of Amnesty International and other groups calling for the reintroduction of the requirement in the current Order to teach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the origins of the United Nations.

But SCAA has stood its ground and made no significant changes to these proposed units as a result of the consultation exercise. It considers that teachers will appreciate the flexibility in units 3 and 4 when they come to plan the work in detail.

Overall, the content of KS3 has been reduced from eight units in the current history Order to six, by removing the requirement to teach the Roman Empire and the supplementary unit A, which was either an in-depth study or a study of a theme over time relating to British history before 1920. The distinction between core and supplementary units has been removed to create a simpler system.

The other proposed KS3 unit about which many respondents expressed concern was study unit 2, The Making of the United Kingdom: crowns, parliaments and peoples 1500-1750.

Most delegates to the seminars considered it overloaded and too conceptually difficult because of its political and constitutional focus. The unit has therefore been reworked and the section on the formation of the United Kingdom has been broadened to avoid anarrow concentration on legislation.

At KS2, there has also been further slimming down. A substantial minority of those consulted felt the draft proposals still contained too much for the time available.

Where the draft proposals suggested pupils should study eight units - four core and four extension - rather than the nine in the current history Order, the final proposals have cut that to six. And the Stuarts, whose deletion from the curriculum divided respondents during the consultation exercise, are still to be left out. (The 17th century is, in any case, covered in KS3.) Study unit 1, Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, has been revised to make it clear that pupils should study the early history of the British Isles only in outline and study Romans or Anglo-Saxons or Vikings in greater depth. Many teachers had complained that the unit in the current Order included too much.

One change that teachers will find helpful is the presentation of key elements alongside the basic content for each key stage. Each programme of study will contain the main components across a double page spread. This will help to ensure that they are related to each other and make progression through the key stages clearer to teachers.

Key changes from the current Order. Key stage 1 * the time periods to be covered have been reduced from three to two by cutting out the need to study changes in the way of life of British people since the Second World War; * Explicit references to British history have been inserted.

Key stage 2 * content has been reduced from nine units to six: Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Britain; Life in Tudor Times; Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930; Ancient Greece; Local History; and A Past, Non-European Society; * all units have been slimmed significantly, for example by re-moving the Stuarts requirement.

Key stage 3 * content has been cut from eight units (five core and three supplementary) to six study units: Medieval Realms: Britain 1066-1500; The Making of the United Kingdom: Crowns, Parliaments and Peoples 1500-1750; Britain 1750-circa 1900, The Twentieth-Century World; An Era or Turning Point in European History before 1914; A Past, non-European Society; * units 3 and 4 (Britain 1750-circa 1900 and The 20th-Century World) have been restructured, largely because of the ending of compulsory history at KS4.

Key stage 4 * history at KS4 was made non-statutory before the review of the curriculum.

General * a statement has been included at KS2 and KS3 about the need to set the study of British history in its European and world context; * the distinction between core and extension studiessupplementary units has been removed; * the use of terms and language has been standardised, for instance the term study unit is used throughout; * the three attainment targets have been reduced to one called "history"; * levels 9 and 10 have been abolished and replaced by an "exceptional performance" category. To reach this level in history, pupils would have to show a wide range of skills, including the ability to "use sources of information critically, carry out enquiries about historical topics and independently reach and sustain substantiated and balanced conclusions". They would also have to "produce consistently well-structured narratives, descriptions and explanations, making appropriate use of dates and terms"; * level descriptions replace statements of attainment.

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