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Chris Skidmore MP: History is being forgotten in schools and should be made compulsory as a subject until the age of 16

Chris Skidmore MP is the MP for Kingswood

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If the purpose of education is not merely to provide us with the skills, knowledge and awareness to progress into whichever career we choose, but to instil also in each pupil a common shared body of knowledge and values which we pass on to each generation, then the study of our national heritage should be paramount in every school.

ConservativeHome has long campaigned for History to be made compulsory in schools beyond 14. After all, there are powerful reasons internationally for doing so: compared to our European neighbours, startlingly we remain the only country apart from Albania that does not make History compulsory beyond 14.

We should nevertheless admit that, as David Cannadine’s new book, The Right Kind Of Historypowerfully demonstrates, the debate about how history should be taught has been an age-old one. Equally, the uptake of history beyond 14 has remained low, with just 36% of pupils being entered for History GCSE in 1997. But this cannot hide the fact that history has witnessed a marked decline recently: last year the proportion of pupils being entered for GCSE History dipped beneath 30%. And a short report that I have published yesterday - History in Schools- A School Report reveals that even this hides the real problem beneath the surface: that in many areas of the country, History is at risk of becoming a dead subject. The report reveals that: 

  • In 159 schools, not a single pupil was entered for GCSE History, with 13% of Comprehensives entering less than 1 in10 pupils for the subject.
  • In Knowsley, just 8% of pupils passed GCSE History and a mere 4 pupils passed A-level History. In Newham, only 16% of pupils were even entered for GCSE History.
  • In 77 local authorities, less than 1 in 5 pupils passed GCSE History. The report includes a league table of local authorities, including a ranked ‘Bottom 10’ and ‘Top 10’ authorities.
  • The gap between the proportion of pupils studying History in grammar schools compared to Comprehensives has widened from 17.4 percentage points in 1997 (36.3% to 53.7%), to 24.9% today (29.9% to 54.8%).

Looking at the figures, it is easy to see where the problem lies: the report demonstrates how the study of History, a subject which should unite us as one nation, has now become the subject of two nations. In entire communities and schools, often in some of the most deprived areas of the country, the study of history has been shunned; elsewhere, it has become the preserve of more affluent areas and schools. This cannot be healthy for the future of the nation- indeed, for our own national identity, we must seek to end the current situation where two worlds can sit side by side, not understanding our common history and shared values. History has a crucial role to play in defining these, and more must be done to transform and reinvigorate the study of a subject so vital to our national identity.

On Tuesday I will argue in the Commons that the case for making History compulsory to 16, as it has been in many other countries across the globe for a long time. There are many other issues that must also be dealt with, including making space for history in the Primary curriculum, as well as looking how to create a ‘National History’ GCSE rather than simply relying on the current stale GCSE offerings of Hitler’s Germany or Stalinist Russia, as well as ensuring that pupils are taught a broad chronological and narrative understanding of the sweep of British History, rather than disjointed bitesize chunks, which act as glimpses into history rather than impressing upon a pupil how centuries and ages interconnect with one another. Then there are the old debates that Cannadine’s book sets out, around whose history, what history, and how history should be taught. But let us start with one agreement— that we should never doubt why history should be taught. Given the current state of History in schools across the country where history is quite literally being forgotten, the case for making History a compulsory subject to 16 has never been stronger.


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