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Dan Moorhouse

Future of the History Curriculum

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The QCA are currently reviewing the curriculum for History and other subjects. I have been asked to attend a consultation conference that is discussing the future history curriculum. The details suggest that the conference will look at the relationship between depth studies and chronology, ways of avoiding a Nazi heavy curriculum, links with the Citizenship curriculum. The emphasis is on 14-19 provision.

I'd be interested to hear the views of people from other subject areas on this, how do you see History fitting into the curriculum as the 14-19 curriculum develops?

A range of suggestions made by History Teachers' can be found on this thread of the history teachers' Discussion Forum.

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The QCA are currently reviewing the curriculum for History and other subjects. I have been asked to attend a consultation conference that is discussing the future history curriculum. The details suggest that the conference will look at the relationship between depth studies and chronology, ways of avoiding a Nazi heavy curriculum, links with the Citizenship curriculum. The emphasis is on 14-19 provision.

There are good reasons why some topics are studied more than others. Subjects like Nazi Germany are very popular with students and therefore teachers are attracted to the increased motivation that the topic creates.

Before the arrival of the National Curriculum the history teacher had the task of finding topics that he/she thought were important but would also be popular with the students.

I believe the QCA should return to this formula. Teachers largely agree about what topics are important to study. Therefore the main question involves how these topics can be made more exciting.

For example, before the introduction of the National Curriculum I spent a lot of time studying the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was not alone as it was the most popular book ever published by Tressell.

We taught the subject because it was incredibly popular with the students (everyone loves a mystery – especially one that involves such a charismatic figure as Kennedy). I stopped teaching it after the introduction of the NC. I found it impossible to justify spending so much time on the death of one president. I now think I was wrong to make this decision. What I should have done was to use the topic to study the Cold War and the domestic policies of the United States. By looking at the possible motives for the assassination you could have studied Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, USA relations with the Soviet Union, civil rights legislation, political corruption in the USA, Détente, the Mafia, John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, Lyndon Johnson, etc.

Maybe the issue the QCA should be addressing is the way we approach the important topics we have identified. I would suggest the same is also true of citizenship.

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Dan,

Is the conference about history at 14-19 or 5-14? I work with QCA and others and have heard nothing about the conference. I do know they have asked the Historical Association to do some work on history at 14-19. Is the conference organised by the HA?

I would say that we may need to think in new and radical terms about the role of history at 14+. The key challenge is to encourage the 68% of pupils at 14 who currently opt not to do history to take up the subject. I think the way to do this is make history more relevent to their own lives. Relevance is not the same as teaching modern history or a historical background to current affairs. It is more to do with the role of the past in their own feelings of identity or what the past can tell us about issues they mave to deal with, like racism, or issues of wider concern they may be interested in like global warming.

We might also want to think about the relationship of history to other subjects. For example, how about offer historical geography to help explain how the places in which student live have developed their particular characteristics?

Don Henson

Council for British Archaeology

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Guest Adrian Dingle

I read with interest, the comments that Don Henson makes, in particular when he says;

The key challenge is to encourage the 68% of pupils at 14 who currently opt not to do history to take up the subject.

This is similar to some comments that have been made in the debate, "Chemistry is Dead". My question is this, "Is it really the case, or for that matter, should ever be the case, that individual subjects should be vying for the attention of young people?" It sounds suspiciously like the American model I am working in now, of greater and greater breadth all the way up to the age of 18, rather than the British model of greater and greater depth.

If kids aren't especially interested in chemistry or history, why should we care, if they have chose to drop those subjects in favor of others that they find more appealing? Isn't it reasonable to expect a certain minimum from the secondary curriculum (up to KS3) that equips them to survive in historical or chemical terms, and then allow them to move on from there to other areas they find stimulating? It's a similar idea to, "Sport for All". A disastrous concept that breeds, large numbers of mediocre participants, rather than selected elite performers.

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Is the conference about history at 14-19 or 5-14? I work with QCA and others and have heard nothing about the conference. I do know they have asked the Historical Association to do some work on history at 14-19. Is the conference organised by the HA?

The conference was organised by the HA as part of their consultation with people before responding to the Tomlinson committee's proposals. The QCA were represented at the meeting by Jane Weake.

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Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) yesterday signalled the imminent end of the conventional paper-and-pen exam when he predicted that all youngsters could be taking their national tests, GCSE and A-level exams on screen at a computer in just five years' time. Boston claims that as well as responding to "tick box" questions, students will be guided through interactive problems. It has even been suggested that students could even be asked questions about coursework from home using mobile phones.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/3574951.stm

What impact will online exams have on the the teaching of history? Surely there is a danger that with online exams will encourage a “tick-box” approach to the subject.

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I will be fighting to retain as much of a "chalk and talk" presence in my classroom as possible and as little cross curriculum activities as possible for the duration of my career.

I think history is a subject that can be used to build learning skills. I think written analysis is critical to the opening of young minds. I also believe, when it is done in a certain way, that it is a message to students that it is believed that they have the capacity for serious higher level thinking and that will be asked of them.

I think forays into depth help students see a new reality of examination, a reality that they should hopefully be able to apply to several areas of life.

As we start finding new alternatives to traditional school room education, I think we are overly idealistic and we tend to forget that there are many aspects of traditional schooling, when done in an effective way, that can not be replicated in other ways. Discipline, facing consistent and reasonably high expectations, managing a fairly busy set of tasks, these are all things that will help people grow up to be effective workers, parents, citizens, etc.

Some can blossom and reach tremendous heights without school structure, but we will lose a lot in society if we focus on group activities that don't demand excellent individual performance, or if we fall in love with technology for technology's sake.

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Adrian Dingle quite rightly points out the dangers of a curriculum that sacrifices depth for breadth. I do not see them as mutually exclusive. A good curriculum provides both.

Why should students at 14+ have a knowledge of history? Two reasons -

1. As far as I am aware, the UK is the only country in Europe that does not make history a compulsory subject at 14-16.

2. Heritage is one of the biggest earners of income for the UK economy. That heirtage needs to be understood and cherished with proper funding and conservation and interpretation. None of this is likely if the majority of adults have no knowledge, understanding or feeling for the past.

Perhaps a better reason is that history is a fascinating and fun subject that can appeal at various levels, and provide stimulating intellectual challenge as well as emotional stimulation. If students are opting in droves not to do history, what does that tell us about the way it is taught or the type of history on offer?

Don Henson

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Don

I disagree about depth and breadth not being mutually exclusive. There is a finite amount of time at all levels of the curriculum and as a result breadth will cause a sacrifice of depth, and vice-versa.

I agree about the validity and usefulness of a knowledge of history, but that is true of nearly all subjects. That is why we should decide what is important and make sure all students get the minimum (in each subject area) up to KS3. That's what the National Curriculum is for. You can debate for evermore as to what should be included for each subject, but its overall purpose is crystal clear to me.

We can also debate the validity of a breadth versus depth system too, but as long as we have (in the UK) the emphasis on depth, there will inevitably be kids that jettison certain subjects at various points in their formal education careers. I don't see this as damaging, just one way of handling education.

Ignoring the word "fun" (see http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.ph...findpost&p=3810 for my thoughts on that); it is also true to say that all other subjects can be made intellectually and emotionally stimulating too. Given that fact, some kids will be turned on to some subjects and not others. I like the UK system of depth much better than the US system of breadth, even taking into account the consequence that all kids will "drop" certain subjects.

Finally, I don't see how, just because

the UK is the only country in Europe that does not make history a compulsory subject at 14-16
, that the UK is necessarily wrong (as I think you are implying).

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Adrian,

Sorry not to reply sooner - I've been rather snowed under!

I too prefer depth to breadth. But I do think that with history (rather than all subjects in the curriculum) we have sacrificed breadth of historical knowledge and understanding too much. I am not arguing for a history of dates and events but I do think that students should be able to see where particular periods fit within the larger historical picture and be able to compare and contrast similar events in different periods. What is on offer at 14-16 by and large does not build on the excellent teaching of the 5-14 history curriculum. (Not my just view but that of OFSTED and QCA I believe)

I also speak from the point of view of an organisation concerned with safeguarding heritage for future generations. It canot be good for popular support for that heritage if two thirds of people have no historical education after the age of 14. heritage provides a great deal of income towards the economy both locally and nationally and yet is appalling badly served in terms of heritage management. An unhistorical population will get the heritage they deserve - badly conserved, badly presented, demolished to make way for roads and yet more shopping malls etc. I would not want to force everyone to take history t 14-16 but i do think history needs to make itself more attractive to students at the age range by being more relevant and attractive to them.

Donald

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I would not want to force everyone to take history t 14-16 but i do think history needs to make itself more attractive to students at the age range by being more relevant and attractive to them.

I'd suggest that History teachers are quite capable of making the subject more relevant to the students, however you can only work within the confines of a fairly narrow set of curricular options. Assessment methods are archaic, why can't we assess in the same way that we do at KS3? I'm becoming increasngly frustrated by the lack of opportunity to develop activities that are interesting AND formally assessable at KS4 - can do this at KS3 without anyone saying there's a problem. Assessment for learning at KS3, Assessment of learning at KS4 and KS5. Daft, especially when some other subjects are allowed to work in a more 'modern' manner.

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I agree that it is the narrowness of the curricular options that are the problem; the qulaity of teaching itself is excellent.

I also agree that assessment needs to be reconsidered. The proposed new 'hybrid' GCSE for history to be piloted in 2005-07 will offer the opportunity to develop activity-based assessment. It will be interesting to see how this works.

Donald

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I also agree that assessment needs to be reconsidered. The proposed new 'hybrid' GCSE for history to be piloted in 2005-07 will offer the opportunity to develop activity-based assessment. It will be interesting to see how this works.

My understanding is that on the short course the 'national' study will have an element of external examination whilst the local and international elements of the course will be teacher assessed. A lot of emphasis seems to have been placed on the ease of use for teachers, or it was at the HA conference. I doubt very much whether it will actually be any easier for teachers, the teacher assessments will still have to be approved, moderated, externally moderated and so on... if anything that means more paperwork rather than less: however, if it makes the method of assessment more appropriate for pupils on the course then the paperwork is an unfortunate price that will be worth paying.

NB: Does anyone know if the hybrid has been taken on by any of the exam boards yet?

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I too prefer depth to breadth. But I do think that with history (rather than all subjects in the curriculum) we have sacrificed breadth of historical knowledge and understanding too much. I am not arguing for a history of dates and events but I do think that students should be able to see where particular periods fit within the larger historical picture and be able to compare and contrast similar events in different periods. What is on offer at 14-16 by and large does not build on the excellent teaching of the 5-14 history curriculum. (Not my just view but that of OFSTED and QCA I believe)

One of the major problems is that the History National Curriculum was originally drawn up with the brief that it was going to be taught to all students until the age of 16. This created serious problems when the government reneged on this promise and made it optional at Key Stage 4 (later they made the problem worse by reducing the time spent on the subject at Key Stage 2). This completely undermined the idea that all students should study certain topics. It also meant that students had to repeat things they had studied in Key Stage 3.

I am also very concerned about this attempt to cover too much content. Students need to be given time to ask questions and debate key issues. Dale Banham raises this issue in his excellent article on teaching an in-depth study of John F. Kennedy (Teaching History). He argues that if teachers “are always pushing for the next level of attainment, there is little hope that pupils will develop the thinking they need to make real progress. If pupils are spoon fed information and ideas much faster than they can integrate them… They will also lack the ability to think creatively, to make connections and reconstruct new and original lines of argument.”

Even before the arrival of the National Curriculum it was difficult to study subjects in too much depth. This was largely a problem of resources (publishers of school textbooks did not provide the material to do this). This is the main reason why I first began to produce my own resources in the 1970s. Other teachers committed to the in-depth approach had to adopt similar tactics.

The arrival of the National Curriculum increased this problem (by this time educational publishers had begun to produce in-depth materials). The development of the web has increased the opportunities to carry out in-depth investigations. The problem is, how do you find the time to allow the students to do that? The only answer is to reduce the amount of content that you are expected to cover. This will involve some hard questions about what content should be studied by all students.

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History does have a lot of content to include - 2,000 years of documented history in Britain alone (and as an archaeologist I lament the lack of prehistory, which would add another 15,000 years since the last Ice Age!). What has never been done is to assess logically against agreed criteria what content should be the focus of in-depth studies from that whole 2,000 year span (and how do we agree the criteria?). With restricted time available only the most superficial breadth study is possible. Perhaps, we go for a superficial understanding of basic chronology and breadth with selected keyhole focus on key events, periods and then some cross-period themes?

I suspect there is no easy answer.

Donald

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