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History Practitioners Advisory Team

Seán Lang

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Last year I was asked by the Conservatives to put together a team to advise them on history in schools. I did, and the team is called the History Practitioners Advisory Team (HPAT). Although we were commissioned by the Conservatives, we remain an independent group.

Report for the Opposition Front Bench on a possible future shape for the school history curriculum

Executive Summary

1. History should be made compulsory in every year of secondary schooling to the age of 16. The great majority of pupils drop history altogether at the end of Key Stage 3. Since many schools are trying to cover Key Stage 3 in two years instead of three, increasing numbers of secondary school pupils only study this vital subject for two years before giving it up at the age of 13. Previous attempts to grant pupils an ‘entitlement’ to history have self-evidently failed. The only way to safeguard pupils’ right to learn about their history is to make the subject compulsory.

2. The artificial division of subjects into “Core” and “Foundation” has had the effect of devaluing essential subjects like humanities and languages and should be abolished. The proven educational value of subject disciplines should be reasserted and their position strengthened within the school curriculum.

3. Citizenship as a separate school subject should be abolished. Its different components should be shared out between history, geography and PSE, with history taking over those elements of citizenship education which are designed to develop pupils’ understanding of the different identities that go towards a collective sense of “Britishness”.

4. There should be a single course of study in history from 11 to 16, with a strong core of narrative British history. British history and the history of the British Empire should constitute an important element within GCSE.

5. British history should integrate elements of English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Empire and Commonwealth history. This should be done in such a way as to enable pupils to have a better understanding of the various historical experiences which, over a long period of time, have contributed to the creation and development of the modern United Kingdom.

6. Pupils should gain an overall picture of the narrative shape of British history and should not spend time repeating or ‘revisiting’ topics. The current arrangements whereby some topics are repeated in different school years, of which the best known example is the study of Nazi Germany, limit pupils’ opportunity to discover the full richness of the past and should be ended.

7. History GCSE should draw mainly, but not exclusively, on the history studied in Years 10 and 11. Credit should also be given to candidates who draw on the history they have studied in Years 7-9. This should be a condition for the award of an A* grade.

8. The current examination and assessment requirements of history GCSE are in need of major revision. Four changes in particular are needed:

i) The development of an assessment objective testing pupils’ ability to construct an historical narrative from historical material.

ii) The current highly formulaic and unhistorical source questions in examinations should be replaced by historical inquiry based on real historical sources. Many of these sources could be made available online by museums, archives, libraries and heritage agencies. It is time to end the practice of setting short extracts from sources on examination papers.

iii) Mark schemes should reward highly (rather than penalising, as at present) those candidates who show initiative, imagination and wide historical knowledge. The award of an A* grade should be made conditional on wide historical knowledge and evidence of initiative beyond the strict requirements of the examination course.

iv) Candidates should be introduced to genuine differences in interpretations of major historical events. Precisely because history is a controversial subject which thrives on debate and argument, it is an essential component in education within a functioning democracy. Pupils should learn that history is open to many different, and often conflicting, interpretations.

9. Resources for the history curriculum should be planned from the start, in conjunction with publishers, online providers, archives, libraries, museums, galleries and heritage agencies. The current arrangements, which allow examiners to profit from their own examinations by writing “badged” textbooks encourages narrow “teaching to the test”, impoverishes the pupils’ experience of history and raises serious questions of probity. It should be ended.

10. There should be genuine incentives to encourage teachers to extend their historical knowledge. Funding should be made available to support the providers of subject-based CPD and the extension of subject knowledge should be a criterion in inspection and for the award of Advanced Skills and Chartered Teacher status.


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