Ok I admit, that’s not a particularly catchy title, but this post follows on from my look at the links between History & Geography!
I’ve begun teaching GCSE Citizenship alongside my History teaching this year at my new school. I’m still a historian at heart, but with my passion for current affairs & increasing social awareness amongst students, this has been a challenging but rewarding opportunity! Getting students to understand our democracy, the media circus, how our justice system works- all these, if done correctly, could lead to more active citizenship from future generations.
Now today the government have announced that there will be a new version of the UK Citizenship test for those wishing to become a legal resident and British citizen, and that this new test will have a greater focus on the country’s history. If I ever needed to take such a test, I feel far more comfortable doing so now, because under the old scheme, questions such as “True of False: Ulster Scots is a dialect which is spoken in Northern Ireland” would leave me stumped!
The topics chosen are good ones too- testing their knowledge of key individuals such as Shakespeare, Brunel, Churchill, Newton, Fleming and Arkwright (although I’m not entirely sure why Clement Atlee makes the list!)
Why this greater focus on British history?Well there are different messages here. The Director of the History Curriculum Association, Christopher McGovern, says it will help new residents integrate with the existing society. Questions on the name of our flag in 1801, or on what flower is traditionally worn on Remembrance Day are good ones, but questions on the location of Stonehenge, or the date of the Battle of Trafalgar seem a little more abstract.
The Minister for Immigration Mark Harper says that “the new book rightly focuses on values and principles at the heart of being British. Instead of telling people how to claim benefits it encourages participation in British life”. Ah, being British… what does that mean again?
Iain Aitch, author of “we’re British, innit” tells us that “Britishness is something that comes with time. You learn to queue, not complain about your poor lunch and to be able to talk about the weather at length without saying much at all. Some things are nuanced and not really testable”. I think he’s right.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the greater focus on our History, I believe wholeheartedly that all British citizens- born or made- should have a sound historical understanding of our country. I just hope we’re not trying to turn them into a typical Tory- someone who wishes to bring back a bygone era that by and large never really existed.
So while I welcome the questions, and I take every opportunity to link the two together in my lesson, I question whether the government have truly considered whether these new test questions will have any real impact. I mean, if they really think they’ll make a massive difference, that might explain their focus on the new History curriculum, as most immigrants applying for UK Citizenship will end up knowing more about History than most of the British population anyway!