Viva the Victorians and their far-sighted vision

17th September 2010 at 01:00

How ironic that the centenary issue of The TES should carry a report on how history is being increasingly marginalised by headteachers who simply do not see its value as a separate subject ("Heads are refusing to fight for history, claim the specialists battling for its future", September 10).

Perhaps part of the the explanation lies in other parts of your same issue. Historian Jacob Middleton painted a grotesquely negative picture of Victorian education, as a time "When teachers and taught were sworn enemies", and even Mike Kent describes the children in the 1914 photograph in his office as raggedly dressed, staring passively at a blackboard - and their schoolmaster as dour and stiff ("Progress would stun class of 1914").

We owe our education system to the vision of the Victorians. They inherited the attitude that regarded children as functionaries for the world of work and ended it. They had the revolutionary idea that all children had a right to an education, even the poorest. They built large, airy classrooms, gave their children regular health checks and physical exercise and generally nurtured them as future citizens. We owe them our systems of teacher training and school examinations, indeed the very idea that education should transform the whole child.

Yet we caricature the Victorians' passionate devotion to education. With that attitude to our own educational history, is it any wonder headteachers pick up the crazy idea that the past has nothing to teach our children?

Dr Sean Lang, Senior lecturer in history, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

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