No waking from this nightmare

17th January 2014 at 00:00

Like many history teachers, I have recently been revisiting the literature about the First World War, its origins and outcomes. Of all the books I have read, Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers is the most subtle and nuanced analysis of the war's origins. It is a triumph of scholarship over myth-making, unlike education secretary for England Michael Gove's "preference for myth-making over scholarship" - the words of historian Richard Evans ("Teach First World War 'like you're living it yourself'", 10 January). The book does not provide easy answers or facile Gove-like generalisations but instead captures the slow, unwitting, complicated slide to disaster.

In a parallel (but admittedly far less world-shattering) sense, the title of The Sleepwalkers reminds me of how so many schools have acquired, or been forced unwillingly to acquire, academy status without fully realising its consequences in terms of lack of accountability to parents and the local community.

After sleepwalking into war, European states in 1914 found themselves embroiled in a conflict from which they could not readily withdraw despite its disastrous consequences. A century on, how many schools are embroiled in a contract with the education secretary through an academy chain from which they cannot withdraw, and how many have grievances for which they can find no redress?

Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria.

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