What did Hitler do in the war, miss?

19th January 2001 at 00:00
Calls for compulsory GCSE history follow a survey highlighting appalling gaps in pupils' knowledge. Amanda Kelly reports.

THE Great Fire of London took place in 1066, Hitler was Britain's Prime Minister during the Second World War and Henry VII had eight wives.

These are just some of the worrying howlers that came to light in a survey designed to test the historical knowledge of secondary-school youngsters.

Almost a quarter of the 200 cildren aged 11 to 18 questioned by historical publisher Osprey placed the First World War in the wrong century and 17 per cent linked Oliver Cromwell to the Battle of Hastings rather than the English Civil War.

One in 20 youngsters thought the Romans ruled just 150 years ago, 6 per cent thought our current Queen Elizabeth II was on the throne at the time of the Spanish Armada and nearly three-quarters were unable to name Nelson's flagship, the Victory.

Professor Robert O'Neill, editor of Osprey's Essential Histories, a new series of books designed to make the history of war accessible to all, blamed the Government for downgrading history in the national curriculum.

He said: "As the survey suggests, children are far less awae of even the biggest events of the past 1,000 years than they were 20 years ago.

"This is because there is less emphasis on history within the curriculum. I think the Government made a big mistake in allowing history to be a non-compulsory subject at GCSE, a mistake we hope they will now put right.

"As children come under more and more pressure to get highly paid jobs, they are opting instead for the subjects most closely linked to earning professions, such as economics, computer science and management.

"But the long-term cost of this is enormous. It means the next generation will grow up detatched from their roots and society and they will be less able to solve problems of policy because they will have no idea why things are the way they are."

Christine Counsell, vice-president of the Historical Association, said:

"Some schools now have as little as one hour of history a week. In no other country in Europe are pupils allowed to stop their historical education at 14."

The Department for Education and Employment said there were no plans to make history a compulsory GCSE subject, but insisted that it still plays a key role within the curriculum.

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