Curriculum for Cohesion

Response to DfE’s February Draft History Specification

On 7 February 2013 the Department for Education (DfE) launched a consultation on Reform of the National Curriculum in England. The consultation period closed on 16 April 2013.

The DfE has published a 221 page document (Word version at this link) setting out the proposed curriculum for 12 school subjects, one of which is History. The draft specification for the History curriculum is on pages 165 – 171 of the DfE document. The text of the Draft History Specification is also contained as an appendix in our response document linked below.

On 20 March 2013 Curriculum for Cohesion submitted our considered response to the DfE consultation document. It contains the following:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. What is to be commended about the Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History
  4. What needs to be changed about the Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History
  5. The principles underlying our suggestions for improving this Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History
  6. Our amended Specification for the National Curriculum for History
  7. The authorship of our response
  8. Details of the Curriculum for Cohesion Academic Team
  9. Details of the Curriculum for Cohesion Patrons
  10. Details of the Institutions involved in Curriculum for Cohesion
  11. References (Bibliography)
  12. The full text of the DfE’s Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History
  13. A one-page description of Curriculum for Cohesion

The Executive Summary is reproduced below. The full text of our response can be downloaded as a PDF document at this link.

Executive Summary

The Department for Education’s Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History (7th February 2013, see Appendix 1) is under-pinned by some sensible aims. Nevertheless, as it stands, it is the outline of an inadequate History education for pupils in English schools in 21st century Britain.

In this response, we commend some aspects of the Draft Specification, outline why it is also in need of some significant changes and suggest what those changes might look like in a revised specification.

Curriculum for Cohesion commends the Purpose of the Study of History of the Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History which states that both detailed historical knowledge and critical habits of mind are the end product of a good History education.

Curriculum for Cohesion commends the stated desire of the Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History to give pupils a rigorous civic knowledge of Britain and the aspiration underlying this to create a shared public historical culture.

Curriculum for Cohesion also commends the stated aim of the draft specification for pupils to have their historical knowledge properly arranged upon a chronological framework.

However, as it stands the Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History is unteachable in the overwhelming quantity and detail of the topics that it will require teachers to teach. It is also highly prescriptive which undermines the Government’s own stated educational agenda to increase teacher-autonomy.

It is also un-learnable in that it pays no attention to the fact that pupils learn History in different ways at different ages. The list-like structure of topics with no differentiation in their complexity presents pupils with content that is developmentally inappropriate. This, at best, will leave pupils with an 8-year-old’s understanding of the Ancient, Early Medieval and Medieval periods, an 11- year-old’s understanding of the Early Modern Period and an adolescent understanding of the 20th Century.

Furthermore, in its form as a list of events with almost exclusive focus on the political history of Britain taken in isolation, it ignores the findings of modern historical scholarship which increasingly stress the interconnectedness of civilisations and nations. Thus, it largely fails to acknowledge that Britain’s diverse population is the product of our rich and diverse History and so it threatens to alienate the 17% Black and Minority Ethnic population of English schools.

With respect to the c .10% Muslim population of English schools, the complete absence of the history of Islamic civilisation and of the longstanding Muslim connection with Britain risks increasing alienation and even radicalisation amongst some young Muslim Britons and also risks increasing anti-Muslim prejudice amongst non-Muslim Britons. The absence of narratives at school through which young Muslims can identify positively with Britain and with History would risk abandoning them to those narratives on the internet that can drive terror.

In short, in its content the Draft Specification of the National Curriculum for History, as it stands, fails to uphold the traditional Conservative agenda of History education that is a balance between inculcating core knowledge and facilitating creative teaching, and the British tradition of History education which has hitherto lead the world in creating a relationship in the classroom between national and World History.

Curriculum for Cohesion’s response outlines a revised specification by Key Stages based on the following principles that the History curriculum should be:

  1. representative of a shared public culture and narrative in which the culturally diverse school population of England can actually share;
  2. developmentally appropriate to children’s ages;
  3. capable of being taught in a way that inspires pupils to learn about Britain’s history;
  4. in keeping with the findings of modern historical scholarship about the interconnectedness of civilisations and nations.