Gove’s history curriculum condemned

March 28, 2013 — News

Written by Ryan Erfani-Ghettani

Michael Gove’s reform of the national history curriculum has caused widespread concern.

The Department for Education (DfE) is currently hosting a consultation on reforms to the national curriculum that will affect children from primary school-age to Key Stage 3. The consultation is aimed at school teachers, parents, young people, employers and local authorities among others, and is due to close on 16 April 2013.

The DfE plans wholescale changes to the history curriculum, replacing a framework with ‘a record of outstanding practice’. Ilona Aronovsky of History Education Consultancy has described the scrapped curriculum as ‘inclusive’:

It had a good balance of social and economic history, and meaningfully included Black and Asian history and the spectrum of social class and diversity … now this is removed from the curriculum – it makes no sense.

The DfE’s new focus abandons such inclusiveness, adopting instead a nationalist modus operandi. It aims to ensure that children ‘know and understand the story of these islands: how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world’. Where it does occur, the inclusion of Black and Asian history in the curriculum has been described by the Historical Association as ‘clearly tokenistic’.

The DfE’s new proposals claim to give ‘greater flexibility to professionals’, yet according to a letter signed by prominent professionals it ‘betrays a serious distrust of teachers’. The Historical Association and the Royal Historical Society have both claimed that the curriculum was drafted ‘inside the Department for Education without any systematic consultation’. The result is overly controlling – a content-heavy syllabus has been cherry picked by the Minister of Education. Such a method has been taken as ministerial arrogance, and has been described variously by commentators as ‘micro-management’, ‘Goveian prescriptivism’ and ‘Michael Goveathonics’.

In an open letter to the Independent, 100 academics raised fears that while the DfE spoonfeeds facts about ‘Britain’s past’ to pupils, the draft curriculum further undermines the capacity for critical thinking. The letter claims that ‘This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think’. What remains of education is an ‘endless list of spellings, facts and rules’ about British history with no time for critical engagement – a citizenship test in education’s clothing.

Campaigners are worried that, after the successful fight to get Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole reinstated on the history curriculum, many assume that all is well. A campaign has been launched against the ‘narrow and ideologically reactionary vision of the curriculum’. For more information, see the campaign’s Facebook page here.

Related links

The Historical Association

Royal Historical Society

History not Propaganda

The Historical Association is asking for comments on its online forum seeking feedback on the proposals to inform its final submission to the consultation. To contribute, click here.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Comments

April 2, 2013
Norman Pratt:

Having spent much of my 30 years as a History teacher writing schemes of work for Key Stage 3 pupils, I heartily endorse the above comments about the existing scheme of work for History: it allows great flexibility as well as giving some firm nudges in the direction of inclusiveness. The new Programme of Study for History https://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/national%20curriculum%20consultation%20-%20framework%20document.pdf on the other hand is neither flexible nor inclusive, and in my view is both prescriptive and illiberal.
It is worth noting that the ‘Aims’ at the beginning of the PoS are reasonable as far as they go, except that there is no mention of the way that the rest of the world influenced Britain, and no mention of the waves of immigration that have been an important part of the British story for 3000 years.
A more serious problem for the teacher is with the ‘Subject Content’ which follows the ‘Aims’. It is simply a list of topics (not even ‘Whig’ history, just embarrassingly tory). When you add these topics up, and consider how they might be taught, it is quite clear that the need for a continuous narrative has taken over, at the expense of everything else – there is simply no room to study anything in depth. Stereotypes of all sorts (including racial ones) will have a wonderful airing, with no opportunity to question or discuss them. For example, Britain’s relationship with India comes under the headings of ‘Clive of India’ (sic), ‘The Indian Mutiny'(sic), ‘and independence for India’ plus a reference to Gandhi – about an hour for each topic by my estimate. My MP has kindly passed on my letter regarding this, requesting how the Department of Education sees these items being taught, and how they might react to my own suggestion that these strategic/military/political items need to be balanced with some social and economic history such as the ‘drain of wealth’ issue.

April 14, 2013
Katherine Edwards:

I too wholeheartedly endorse this article. History has tremendous power both to break down barriers and, in the wrong hands, to reinforce them. The draft new curriculum presents non-white ethnic groups in Britain as ‘other’. By obliterating their history in this country, it tries to hark back to a fictitious age of ethnic purity before multiculturalism. If you oppose it, please sign an e-petition against it at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/46338

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