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Schools should axe citizenship lessons and teach more British history, say MPs as they bid to half decline in the subject
Cross-party group of MPs calling on Education Secretary to introduce measures to boost history teaching
In 2010, fewer than 30 per cent of 16-year-olds at state schools did GCSE history
01:47 GMT, 10 December 2012
Forgotten figure: Last year only half of English 18-24 year olds knew that Nelson led the Royal Navy to victory in the Battle of Trafalgar
Schools should axe Labour’s citizenship classes and devote more time to British history studies, MPs will say today.
The idea is one of a string of measures being put forward to reverse the decline in history teaching which has seen the subject all but disappear in state schools in some parts of the country.
Research by the All-Party History Group found that fewer than 30 per cent of 16-year-olds in state schools were entered for the GCSE in 2010, compared with 55 per cent of pupils in grammar schools and 48 per cent in private schools.
In one local authority area – Knowsley, in Merseyside – just four pupils passed the exam.
MPs said schools should be allowed to replace citizenship classes with history. Citizenship was introduced as a compulsory subject a decade ago.
Pupils study topics such as crime, justice and politics, and how to be an ‘active citizen’ by voting and taking part in society.
But critics say it is often poorly taught and of little value.
The group said there was a ‘wide educational divide in this country when it comes to studying history’, with teaching of the subject becoming concentrated in affluent areas.
In more deprived areas the subject is often ‘neglected or ignored’, with some head teachers shunning it because it is seen as difficult.
The cross-party group is calling on Education Secretary Michael Gove to introduce a series of measures to boost history teaching.
Last year Mr Gove expressed his horror at a survey that found that half of English 18 to 24-year-olds did not know that Nelson led the Royal Navy to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, with a similar proportion unaware that the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall.
Called on: The cross party group of MPs want Education Secretary Michael Gove to introduce new measures to boost history teaching
Today’s report warns that children are taught too narrow a range of history, often learning about the Second World War and the Tudors several times during their school careers.
Even where a broader range of topics is taught, it is often done in a disjointed way, giving children little idea of how events in the past relate to one another. The report calls for the introduction of a new British history qualification at 16, which would look at the subject in chronological order.
MPs heard that making history compulsory to the age of 16 would be difficult because it would require a trebling of the number of history teachers. But they urged ministers to work towards the goal.
Tory MP Chris Skidmore, vice-chairman of the All-Party History Group, said: ‘An understanding of British history is vitally important for our national identity and understanding where we came from and where we are going.
‘I would prefer history to be compulsory to 16, as it is in most western countries, but for the moment, we should ensure that every pupil, regardless of background, gets the chance to study British history across a span of centuries.’
■ Children’s author Philip Pullman says the way books are studied at school is like ‘torture’. Pupils end up hating the books because teachers tear them apart in an attempt to reveal what they ‘really mean’.