As everyone knows, Michael Gove is currently reviewing the KS3 curriculum with the help of some eminent historians. Niall Fergusson chipped in his twopence in the Guardian a few months ago and deeply frustrated the History community. Last night, however, was Simon Schama’s turn. In an evening hosted by the Historical Association and entitled “What sort of history should school history be?” Schama chaired a panel of practitioners and advisors (including Ben Walsh and Michael Riley) to lead a debate on the future of history teaching.
Schama was never going to let the rabbit out of the hat and reveal the new curriculum, however, the 300-odd attendees were all clearly in attendance to see the general trend of his thinking. @HodderHistory summed up the evening brilliantly “...and if the subtext of this event was ‘Do we trust this man to guide our revised history curriculum?’ the answer seemed to be ‘Yes’”
Unlike Ferguson, Schama seemed to genuinely respect the practice that he has seen in schools, he stated “I’ve seen exceptional history teaching” and showed a clear understanding of the issues we face. None of the panel disagreed that things need to change (especially with the restrictive GCSE), but no one, including Schama, said that we need to be teaching a list of kings and queens (a la Gove!) Schama instead implied that enquiry led teaching is what we should be doing, where narrative certainly has its role (“the stories and questions that explain where we are at this moment are not irrelevant”) but the second order concepts we teach, the skillset, are important. In Schama’s own words the “bullshit spotting is wonderful”, alluding to the source work critiquing we all teach. The most pleasing thing about the evening was that Schama seemed to be listening, both to the passionate audience and ultimately to Michael Riley, the Director of the Schools History Project.
I walked into the lecture hall a nervous teacher concerned about the future of my subject, but left feeling much happier. Schama (my geeky history hero) does seem to understand and listen. Of course, we will all need to see what the final outcome is once the Tories have pushed it through the Department for Education, but on the surface things are looking up!