An open letter to Nick Gibb

Dear Mr Gibb,

A few days ago you published a piece in the Telegraph entitled ‘Soon history will come alive again in class‘ (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/9624840/Soon-history-will-come-alive-again-in-class.html). As a history teacher I feel I have to respond on a number of levels.

The presumption with your article is that history is currently dead in the classroom. I could not disagree any more. Speak to students in my school; for them history is very much alive. They love it. They want to learn and the reason for this is that we are not just equipping them with knowledge but skills, something they can use, they can learn from and they can take into the future.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not an advocate of a purely skills based curriculum and agree with you that ‘learning to learn’ courses have gone too far. In fact I love a bit of content. But I am certainly not alone. Find me a history teacher who doesn’t like the narrative of the past and I will be surprised. History teachers are passionate about the subject we teach. We want the students we teach to have a passion for subject in the same way we do. Personally I would love my students to gain a sense of the grand narrative of this country, as like your leader Mr Gove, I believe it does form our national identity and this is important to understand who we are and where we are headed.

However, and it’s a big however, you must be naive to believe that this alone is enough of a reason to study history. For most students, those who don’t go on to study history at university or A-level or even GCSE, they couldn’t care less about Disraeli or Martin Luther. (…and while I am at it, this information was never useful to me at university either, as I studied nearly all medieval history!)

I can explain to these students about the relevance and resonance of these stories and individuals until the cows come home but these are twelve and thirteen year old children who want something more. This is where skills come in. Through teaching these fantastic stories of the past we can offer something more. We can give them analytical skills, we can give them literacy skills. These are important for any career and kids know it. Ultimately that’s why they like history. Yes, they love stories about the past, but they know that along side that they get something else, something tangible they can personally use.

So, in conclusion, Mr Gibb please do not humiliate the profession I and others are proud of. We all know that change needs to happen. In fact most of us welcome it. But the changes you are suggesting go too far and will not bring history alive, they will destroy a subject that is thriving.

Yours sincerely

Richard Kennett

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