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History to 16 - Downing Street Petition

Seán Lang

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Should history be a compulsory subject to 16?

The History Practitioners Advisory Team (HPAT) has produced a report (which you can see on a separate post here) arguing that it should be. Much is expected of school history, especially in the areas of providing a narrative structure and an understanding of the development of the British and their identity and identities; the recent Ofsted report on history underlines these demands. It is not a question of whether or not these demands are reasonable, but whether they are reasonable within the current constraints on the timetable time allocated to history. As things stand, they are not. However, once you have the whole age range of 11-16 to work with, and once you get past the distorting effect of the Options round, then you can begin to address the sort of issues that politicians and the public want us to include.

For that reason, I have started a Downing Street petition calling on the government to make history compulsory to 16. You can access it at the following link:


If you agree with the proposition, then please sign it and circulate it to others, It is open until the end of December, so we have until then to gauge popular support for the position. The more signatures, the more seriously government has to take it.

If you're not sure, have a look at the HPAT report and see what you think of the arguments we put forward there.

Just to anticipate a couple of questions you might have:

Yes, we are arguing from history's point of view, but we are not seeking to privilege history over subjects. We argue, along with Chris Culpin, that the whole idea of Core and Foundation subjects is damaging and should be scrapped.

Where does the timetable time come from? From abolishing Citizenship as a subject. It would mean that history, along with other Humanities subjects, would need to take on aspects of Citizenship, but that seems a price worth paying, and entirely appropriate too.

No, it wouldn't mean History GCSE for all: it would be perfectly possible to have a non-GCSE course going as well.

Yes, it would mean CPD and a certain amount of rethinking. But it will also mean a much better experience of history (oh, and PROPER sources to work with - no more gobbets from textbooks in the exam papers) for our pupils, our students - and for us!

Have a look at the HPAT report, see what you think, and sign the petition!

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The pressure that school History is under was neatly summed up in a 'media moment' on a television News a couple of mornings ago. A lady reported that a couple of years ago she had been told off for teaching 'Islamic Realms' in her KS3 HIstory course: apparently, despite its being on the QCA list of subjects, it was 'irrelevant'!!!!! The problem with this particular political football is that it has been kicked around so much - at least for the last 30 years - that the ball actually needs patching up and pumping up again. Perhaps the petition can do this.

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Sorry - distracted by History GCSE marking. A few further thoughts. The problem, raised in various forms elsewhere in this Forum, is what the basic narrative of history should be (or even ‘is’). In Britain there are probably two main versions of the narrative, one focussing on princes and the other on peasants. Then there are as many variations on that as there are History teachers. And the National Curriculum reminds us, lest we forget, that there’s more to History than just the political narrative.

We should certainly do what other countries do and make History compulsory. But my plea to politicians would be to also deregulate History, and allow it to revert to the free market that existed in the late 1970’s, before intellectual autarky set in.

Yes, you would have to put up with the fact that some students would leave school knowing about, say, the Civil Rights Movement in the USA in the 1960’s and nothing about The Glorious Revolution in Britain in the 1680’s. But children know they live in a global village, and know what’s relevant to them, and will vote with their attention span.

Finally, I’m not happy with the smallprint of the petition – a proposed marriage of History and Citizenship. History is essentially about truth, citizenship about community. We know that the idea of community in the UK is in trouble, and sense that History might be able to help. If so, it will be by allowing the subject of History to be itself.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sorry, Sean. I entered my details on the petition, but then couldn’t bring myself to left-click, even as a tactical vote.

I think it was the phrase ‘a strong core of narrative British History’ that suddenly made my heart sink: in the 21st Century this phrase sounds tribal. A ‘core’ of British History I could cope with. The ‘strong’ core as outlined in the Report http://www.historypractitioners.org/reports.htm

appears to exclude World History from KS3, something even the National Curriculum hasn’t done, not officially anyway.

A strong core of British and Imperial History did indeed make sense as the focus of History lessons in the 1870’s, something I have heard you speak about very eloquently at the Cambridge History Forum. In the 21st Century, however, I believe the need is to promote a common humanity as much as a common sense of Britishness.

Having read the Report more carefully, I see that you did in fact address my concerns about the difference between History and Citizenship. (I have been perhaps prejudiced by seeing a PSHE team teaching Citizenship well!)

However, on closer inspection, I see you criticise the Schools History Project approach to assessment, partly on the grounds that it is old. This seems a little unfair, especially when you consider the kind of assessment that preceded it, where the ability to clone a teacher narrative in four paragraphs and a conclusion got you an ‘A’. By contrast, I have recently completed marking an SHP GCSE paper (with a very tightly-defined SHP-inspired mark scheme) where the students’ answers were varied, creative, and displayed a basic understanding (pace Professor Elton) of the skills of a historian. My only regret is that the paper concerned, is no longer - as it was before the relentless chant of ‘more British History’ got going - an Unseen paper on any aspect of World History.

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