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A wider view of being British

A senior government adviser has called for a combined history and citizenship course to give pupils a better all-round British historical knowledge.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, told MPs that a wider view of history was necessary for an understanding of "what it means to be British".

Appearing before the Commons education select committee, he rejected the idea that specialist schools could specialise in citizenship within a broad humanities framework. His instinct was that a specialism should focus on "hard academic subjects". Sir Cyril suggested the answer lay in how history was taught.

"On the question of citizenship, I am a historian by original training and sadly too much history in our schools is Henry VIII's wives and Nazi Germany," he said.

"I would like to see a combined history and citizenship course. We are all British, even though we might come from different ethnic minorities.

"It is very important that our young people, whatever their ethnic minority, understands what it means to be British.

"We did found a democratic government and I would like our young people to learn about the Saxons, Anglo-Saxons, Britons, etc and not just focus on some of these more colourful periods."

He said the trust was developing a project that would see Cambridge university working with specialist humanities colleges to review the teaching of history.

The Government has already decided to tackle the issue from the other end, with a commitment to include British history in citizenship lessons.

In January, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, accepted Sir Keith Ajegbo's recommendation for a new fourth strand to the citizenship curriculum, called "Identity and Diversity: Living Together in the UK", to encourage critical thinking about religion and race.

The former head, commissioned by the Government to review citizenship teaching, said the strand should include history and politics and cover the Commonwealth, legacy of Empire, European Union and the UK's four nations.

Sir Cyril is likely to find more backing from Sean Lang, honorary secretary of the Historical Association, who is chairing a Conservative advisory group on history.

He has said that it would be better to re-think the history curriculum to teach pupils about Britishness and the political side of citizenship.

Citizenship could be abandoned as a discrete subject with its other aspects included in personal, social and health education, he said.

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