Ok, I’ll admit a secret to you… I don’t know everything about every period of history. You can ask me many questions about twentieth century history, the Cold War, the reign of Pope Innocent III, the Tudors, Stuarts and plenty of aspects of the Industrial Revolution. I also can tell you lot about American political history, the civil rights movement, Tsarism &Communism in Russia, Jerusalem during the Crusades and how both medical understanding and the role of crime and punishment has developed over time. There may be other topics too, but there’s no way I know everything.
Whenever someone asks me a question about history that I don’t know the answer to, my reply has always been that “history is an inexhaustible subject, and therefore I can’t be expected to know the answer to everything”. But unfortunately, no one seems to have shared this fact with Michael Gove.
The announcement of the new key stage three curriculum, hidden away behind the announced U-turn on GCSEs, has left many secondary school teachers dumbfounded. Some excellent blogs have already been written by Richard Kennett and Hodder History outlining our fears, from the inexplicable move away from enquiry and debate towards abstract knowledge and facts, and the narrow minded opinion that the chronological approach is the only approach. Still, there are another two aspects of these curriculum changes that concern me.
Firstly, the decision of what shall be taught at the different key stages. To no longer teach topics such as the Civil War and the rule of Cromwell, or the Medieval Realms saddens me. How Gove can believe that being taught such a simplified version in key stage two (and at breathtaking speed, given the coverage of topics at that key stage) will be sufficient to truly understand the significance of the events, is beyond me. It will give the impression that such periods of history are only of interest to children, and also prevent both primary and schools from taking advantage of great field trip opportunities in their area simply because it’s not their key stage’s ‘time period’.
Secondly, the amount of topics (a three page list) that have to be covered in key stage three is staggering. Even worse, as a product of the late 90s teaching of history (which, in my opinion, wasn’t that special until the turn of the century) there is a significant number of topics that I have never even heard of before. Clive of India, for example! The historian in me is intrigued- there’s more history to learn! But as a teacher, I can’t see how this is feasible. Lack of resources and time will make this almost unbearable. Of course, teachers will ultimately cope, but at what cost to a generations interest & ability in our popular, well-taught subject?
As many have documented, academies can, if they wish, ignore the new national curriculum, but they would do so at their peril. The changes to GCSEs will more than likely make it necessary to at least use it as a guideline if they are to enhance their enhance their students chance of success.
The consultation period from now until mid-April is, to some extent, vital. Gove may pay no attention, but we must at least speak now, for fear of regretting it later.