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History Teaching

Volume 518: debated on Monday 15 November 2010

History is a vital part of children’s education. We will review the national curriculum to ensure that all children gain a secure knowledge of British history and the key events in world history. We will be announcing further details shortly. We are also exploring ways to encourage the study of history after the age of 14—for example, by giving recognition to pupils studying a broad range of subjects, including a humanity such as history, through the English baccalaureate.

We will never have an understanding of, for example, the need for greater religious tolerance if we do not understand the tragedy of why George Napier was martyred simply for being a Catholic or why Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were burned to death in Oxford. If our children do not have the opportunity of hearing our island’s story, they will never learn the lessons of the past. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that history is taught as a connected narrative? Will he expand a bit more on what he is doing to encourage more youngsters to study history at GCSE and A-level?

Top historians such as Niall Ferguson, Simon Schama and even the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) have all pressed on the Government the need to ensure that history is taught as a connected narrative. I agree with them.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on attracting the likes of Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson to advise the Government, although quite when they last saw the inside of a British classroom is open to debate? However, is the real issue not the syllabus, but the fact that the average 13-year-old has only one hour of history a week for 32 weeks a year, thanks to the growth of citizenship and other well-meaning additions to the syllabus that surely need to be pulled back?

I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s searing attack on curriculum changes introduced under the last Labour Government, appreciate his commitment to the better teaching of history and note, also, the mildly envious tone in his remarks about Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson. However, I can assure him that a copy of “The Frock-Coated Communist” is on my shelves as well, so his sales will certainly be improving—although, whether they can match Niall’s and Simon’s remains to be seen.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to the teaching of British history, and I hope it will be done in a way that allows us to be proud of our country, rather than always apologising for our history. Does he agree that that can be done only if history is taught as a single subject? In many schools, it has been merged with other subjects such as geography. What can he do to ensure that history is taught as a single subject, so that people can learn properly about British history?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The changes we are making to the national curriculum and to accountability, through the English baccalaureate, will ensure that history is taught as a proper subject, so that we can celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world, from the role of the Royal Navy in putting down the slave trade, to the way in which, since 1688, this nation has been a beacon for liberty that others have sought to emulate. We will also ensure that it is taught in a way in which we can all take pride.