“Words fail me” – the new history curriculum

Earlier today Michael Gove finally released his vision for education with the new National Curriculum. We’ve heard rumours, we’ve read leaks, we’ve listened to whispers of gossip but until today that was all conjecture. Well no longer. If you want to see it follow the link below:

The New National Curriculum – framework document

Reading this at lunch, if I am honest words failed me. I sat their open mouthed, I ranted for a while, I hit Twitter in anger, but a few hours later and I feel ready to respond.

Firstly, a brief summary.

A lot about historical skills has stayed. We still have cause and consequence, interpretation and significance. Students still need to know how evidence is used to make claims. But the word enquiry has a notable absence and on a personal level its sad there is no mention of sense of period.

However, the big change is with content. Where before we had a set of guidelines we now an exhaustive list of prescribed content. Interestingly content which pupils ‘should be taught’ not what pupils learn (NB: thanks to my boss Sal for pointing out this important wording).  KS1 is heroes but the fun and games begin with KS2. From KS2 students should be taught the ‘essential chronology of Britain’s history’. KS2 teachers are required to fill in the story from the Stoneage to the end of the 17th century with KS3 teachers picking up the baton from the start of the 18th century to the present day. It’s the sheer scale of this list that is mind boggling. KS2 have a two page list including the Heptarchy (ok I admit I had to Google it) to Warwick the Kingmaker. KS3 beat this record though with a three page behemoth including highlights such as Adam Smith, the Elementary Education Act and Nkrumah (sorry I needed Google again).

We all knew we’d get a prescribed list of content but I think there has been a genuine sense of shock at the scale of this beast. This history new curriculum is genuinely (if it remains unchanged) a revolution in our practice. At secondary schools most schools will need to ditch half of their schemes of work as most of us teach the Middle Ages, the Tudors and the 17th century. We’re going to need to pretty much start from scratch with a lot of this material, much of which is not and never has been in the textbooks. Therefore the cost of this change is going to be ginormous. Even if you teach in an academy, like I do, and do not need to follow it the majority of primary schools have not yet converted so we’ll need to change to avoid cross overs with our feeder schools.

However, to me, the biggest impact is going to be on our primary teaching colleagues. How non-specialists are supposed to tackle this list and teach literacy and numeracy etc at the same time dumb-founds me. My Year 8s struggle with the concepts and complexities of the English Civil War and the subsequent Restoration – how are Year 5s supposed to be able to do this?

Importantly though this raises two questions:

1. Is this actually teachable? 

2. Is this going to benefit our students? 

Unfortunately, the the cynic in me says the answer to the two questions above is a firm no. We shall have to see.

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11 Responses to “Words fail me” – the new history curriculum

  1. In reply to your questions…
    1. Is this actually teachable?
    Of course as specialists we will be able to teach it, but it will drain the variety, interest etc out of the subject. At KS2 I genuinely don’t think it is teachable, too much is expected of wonderful primary teachers who are not specialists yet now have to cover everything prior to 1700!

    2. Is this going to benefit our students?
    No, it will limit their view on our subject, offering a very limited view of history at KS3.

    It isn’t the cynic in you that makes you think that, you are a teacher with experience; sadly exactly the sort of person Mr Govegrind has refused to listen to.

    • McBiko says:

      “KS2 teachers are required to fill in the story from the Stoneage to the end of the 17th century”

      I live in an area rich in Victorian history; Mills, Quarries, a heritage railway that was opened in 1861 and is now a preserved line, the Bronte’s and the Parsonage where they lived and wrote. Clearly having this resource on the doorstep has a big impact on the local Primary schools helping to bring their local history to “life” and to give it value where they live. If the schools are not going to be allowed to teach this, then Primary School children will lose a valuable chance to learn about the area where they live.

      I should imagine it will also impact on all the museums that have a Victorian presence such as the Bronte Parsonage, as KS2 teachers will not be inclined to visit these places.

  2. ‘Words fail me’ of course teachers will cope they always do but at what expense, and what idea will children get of ‘history’ the man is a ……..

  3. I’m worried that the new curriculum gives the impression that Mediaeval History is just something for little kids!

  4. Darren says:

    It is outrageous to populate the curriculum with such a massive range of dates, facts and politics that will remove all the fun from teaching history. I am an experienced primary teacher and I run living history workshops for both WW2 and the Victorians, which will now be completely ignored until secondary school, meaning the question will no longer be “What did you do in the war?” but rather “What war?” until children reach age 14. In addition, where on earth is the link between the pupils and their history as per our current links with the life of a child in the second world war or Victorian times?

  5. Karen Williams says:

    The new curriculum is horrendous in both the scale and the content, the first things we need to cover with year sevens include the Congress of Vienna and Adam Smith. These topics will be beyond the vast majority. The new curriculum will not inspire but bore them rigid. Tell me how to make Victorian politics fun and I may be more willing to listen to Gove. And I sympathise with the primary schools, my daughter would be now getting to grips with the Heptarchy , what she has been doing is a few weeks on the Great Fire of London where she wrote stories and painted wooden houses . I wonder how the primary schools will be expected to deal with so much when at the moment they do not teach it every week of the year but in project blocks.

  6. i am teach says:

    Every time I read it I am more convinced that it is a joke, a spoof piece that has won a competition titled, ‘If the Tory toffs were to write a History curriculum…’. I genuinely can’t believe it! Surely no actual teachers could have been consulted!
    I agree with all of the above concerns, particularly your own about the monetary and time costs involved in making the change. The topics will put students off History completely from an early age. I would like to see Michael Gove come to the depths of West Bromwich and teach 11 year olds about the Enlightenment. He has absoloutely no clue what really goes on in schools and the effort that goes into planning a History lesson which will be accessible for all students – it seems he would have us teach by rote, the Tory approved list of the the country’s most important events. I am fuming.

  7. DM says:

    Why is he not listening to the researchers and educators? There is so much damage to our education system through many aspects of the new curriculum I am deeply worried. My biggest concern is the maths content. And actually there is history in that! Is the bigger plan to force more people into academies so you don’t have to teach it? Genius though launching this when he just announced the ebac uturn! How to bury even more bad news!

  8. Pingback: Inexhaustible? Not according to Gove! | Histor-C

  9. Sarah Corner says:

    This is all quite scary in History. I’ve spent 18 years trying to ensure our History teaching In KS1 , then KS2, is relevant, memorable and fun for the children while smuggling quality learning – of the skills of enquiry and relevant knowledge etc, without boring the children. Bored children can not be motivated to do their best – it’s self-evident. How to inspire Primary School kiddies to learn ‘Constituitional Monarchy and the Union of Parliaments’ eh? Answers on a postcard please…

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