Chris Skidmore is the Member of Parliament for Kingswood.
At a time when the government is still carrying out its review of the National Curriculum, this is the perfect opportunity to stand up for History in schools – with a particular emphasis on making the subject compulsory to 16. In December 2011, I published a report on History in schools. The data in this report shows an alarming trend: that there is an educational divide opening up in our schools between affluent quarters where History is studied and deprived areas where it has been shunned.
The most shocking statistic of all pertains to a single local authority, Knowsley in Lancashire, where in 2010 just 11 pupils took A-Level History, and only four of them passed. At GCSE the story was hardly any better – only 16.8% of pupils took History, and barely 50% scraped at least a C grade. On a national level, there were 159 schools where not a single pupil was entered for GCSE History at all.
In January, I called a Westminster Hall debate on the issue in which a large number of MPs with history backgrounds took part, sharing concerns about the way that in certain parts of the country, History is becoming a dead subject in schools. It is not merely the dearth of people studying History that should give us reason to be concerned, but also the content of what is being taught. There is currently no History GCSE that teaches a narrative of British history across a broad chronological span, that would allow parents a direct comparison between different schools, as exists with English, Maths and Science.
Education is should be more than providing pupils with the skills they need to get a job or enter university: we should not forget that we have a duty to pass on a body of knowledge through generations, a knowledge that unites us nationally and locally. Amercian scholars such as Harold Bloom have spoken of a need to encourage a "Western Canon"; equally, we should be looking to establish a British canon, that will leave every 16 year old conscious of our country’s history- just as important as knowing our great body of literature and scientific advancement.
This has been an area where cross-party working is crucial in order to make progress – as Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History, I am establishing an enquiry on History in schools, which will culminate in a select-committee style enquiry in the House of Commons on 22 May. We hope to take evidence from a number of groups and respected historians. The investigation will focus on not only my own preference to make History teaching compulsory to the age of 16, but also what and how History should be taught in schools. I would welcome relevant submissions from readers too – sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our national identity and our shared values stem from the sheer weight of our nation’s history. Alphonse de Lamartine once wrote that, "History teaches everything, including the future". We do future generations a disservice if we allow a Disraeliean two nations to develop – one in which History is studied and studied well, and one where it is not. Every pupils should leave school aware of their place in a our nation’s narrative – and there is no better way to ensure this than by joining our other international countries and making History compulsory to 16.