It was good to hear that the House of Commons All Party History Group wants more teaching of history in schools.
While I would not necessarily like to see citizenship classes axed to allow more time for history, I most certainly agree that history should have a major place on the school curriculum. Students should generally be expected to study it to GCSE.
As many of you will know, my degree was modern history, called “modern” to distinguish it from “ancient” or “classical”. In fact, I did British and European history from the fall of the Roman Empire to 1939. For “A” level I followed the various ups and down of the Tudors and Stuarts, Francis 1 and the following French kings up to Louis XIV as well as the fortunes of Spain and the multitude of German and Italian states plus anything else that added to the mix such as the Ottoman Turks.
My “O” level syllabus was very interesting for a 16 year old, comprising as it did the period from the industrial revolution to the First World War. This took in the beginnings of industrialisation, the Victorian reforms this brought about such as those concerning working conditions and public health as well as major changes in the electoral system, compulsory education and the expansion and regulation of local government.
It is important that people in general understand their past, both collectively as a continent and as a nation as well as on a more local and personal level. It may just be that knowledge of recent history could in a few instances prevent the same mistakes being made again. It is also true that understanding history may help with present day identity.
Knowing what happened in the past, in any event, adds richness to life. It’s good to know about your grand parents and even great grand parents. In the same way, there is value in knowing who was Prime Minister in, for example, 1945 and what Party was in office (Labour) and that the National Health Service was introduced during the course of that government. Likewise you may like to know that unemployment rose to over 10% of the population under Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister from 1979 until 1990. Facts such as these may well help to shape ideas.
The old debate about whether pupils at school should learn history chronologically apparently still rages. The main question here is one which is rarely raised, namely practicality. It’s not very feasible to do 1066 to 1945 between the ages 11 and 16 in amongst all the other demands of the curriculum. It would therefore be better to identify key historical periods for study in chronological order to give the overall subject an intelligent framework.
Apparently the All Party History Group is concerned that there are not enough history teachers for a full history curriculum. The answer may well be to pay extra to encourage teachers of history as has been done for other shortage subjects. We need a commitment to teaching history well in all schools. It is not an optional extra, but an important part in understanding the way we live today.