Romford MP and Shadow Home Affairs Minister Andrew Rosindell introduced his Teaching of British History in Schools Bill yesterday. It would make British history a core subject in schools at all ages.
Mr Rosindell told the Commons:
"Unlike in most European countries, the teaching of history is no longer compulsory in British schools after the age of 14, and evidence suggests that the history curriculum in our country is deeply flawed. The following findings from surveys conducted over the last few years offer some alarming insights into this matter. It was found that 70 per cent. of 11 to 18-year-olds did not know that Nelson’s flagship at the battle of Trafalgar was called HMS Victory. More than 20 per cent. of 16 to 24-year-olds thought that Britain had, at one stage, been conquered by the Germans, the Americans or the Spanish. Several children mistook Sir Winston Churchill for the first man to walk on the moon. He also joins King Richard the Lionheart and Florence Nightingale as being mistaken regularly by our youth as a creation of fiction.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has previously highlighted, full participation in our nation is greatly aided by a thorough understanding of our heritage and tradition. The study of history helps children better to grasp their own identity, and reading history enables our younger generation to analyse and question the present by engaging and examining what has gone before. Knowledge of the history of our country is so important because it allows people to make informed decisions about the future of our nation. If our children do not know where they come from, how can they possibly move forward? By learning about the rich tapestry of British history, they can identify with the culture and society of modern Britain.
Over the past decade, the number of students reading history has fallen, from 35 per cent. of teenagers taking history at GCSE level in 1997 to 30 per cent. in 2007. This led Ofsted to claim last year that history was increasingly becoming an “endangered subject”. Indeed, Britain in particular is envied for its rich history, the knowledge of which we must cherish and hand down to future generations. Something is going wrong, however. Many pupils harbour a negative view of history by the age of 16. According to some universities, many of those who study the subject in higher education have very little knowledge of history prior to the 20th century.
It is Henry and Hitler who now dominate the history syllabus. Most pupils today would be able to recite the fate of Germany in the second world war and the tribulations of Henry VIII and his wives, but little else. World war two and the Tudor dynasty were, of course, significant events in our nation’s history, but to study them in isolation is not truly to understand the events that led to and followed them.
If we are to advance the cause of British history, we must not focus solely on England. Currently, the history curriculum sheds very little light on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. British history should encompass all countries and all peoples of these isles, as well as those parts of the world in which Britain has had a significant input—including those whose people still identify themselves as British, such as in Her Majesty’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies.
A proper appreciation of our nation’s history is an important factor in forging national cohesion. It would combat the current failure of some pockets of our youth to engage with society and enlighten them as to the impact of the key factors that have shaped our nation over the centuries. History has always been a great contributor to British democracy and has allowed us to conduct a pluralistic analysis of the status quo."
The bill will be read a second time on Friday 16 October.
Perhaps Mr Rosindell will be accused of jingoism, or worse. That would be unfair. He is a consistent enthusiast for Britain, without ever giving the impression that he thinks ill of other countries or people. I personally regret taking Geography instead of History for GCSE (who cares about ox-bow lakes?!), and wish I had been given a better grounding in what has made our nation tick.
The Curriculum is currently too burdensome, but that doesn’t mean the next Tory Government should not add any requirements. As long as the overall impact is a (big) reduction in the demands made on teachers, we can well afford to expect that kids learn about their heritage. Indeed we can’t afford them not to do so.
The United Kingdom is one of the greatest nations of all time. How sad that so many of us grow up knowing far too little about it.