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History Curriculum

Volume 561: debated on Monday 22 April 2013

8. What steps he is taking to ensure that all pupils gain a chronological understanding of British history. (152081)

11. What steps he is taking to ensure that all pupils gain a chronological understanding of British history. (152084)

We believe that all pupils should be taught about the events that have shaped the history of these islands, and their understanding of that history is best developed when it is taught within a robust chronological framework. That is why we have published proposals for a new curriculum. Consultation on the draft closed on 16 April and we hope to publish a final version in the autumn.

The country will thank the Secretary of State for at last restoring British history to our schools, but will he also ensure that our pupils are taught about the proud history of our Commonwealth, the former British empire, and also the British territories?

On the eve of St George’s day, my hon. Friend makes an important point, and it is the case that the new draft national history curriculum explains how Britain has interacted with the rest of the world, from Wolfe’s victory over Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham, which ensured that Canada could remain British, to the influence of Britain on India. It is also the case that the period right up to the 20th century and the process of decolonisation that brought Jinnah, Nehru, Kenyatta and Nkrumah to power is in the national curriculum in detail that did not exist before.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the comments of leading historians Niall Ferguson, David Starkey and Antony Beevor concerning his plans for the history curriculum, who all recognise that unless our children have a real understanding of British history, they cannot possibly know where we have been, where we are now, or where we might be heading in the future?

I am absolutely delighted that high profile historians, along with academics from Cambridge, such as David Abulafia, Professor Robert Tombs and Professor Jonathan Clark, one of the most distinguished contemporary historians of our time, Professor Jeremy Black at the university of Exeter and others have said that our direction of travel is right, but I want to make sure that there is the maximum possible consensus behind this necessary reform.

I support the chronological teaching of British history. Is he sure that the split between primary and secondary is correct in the date lines that he is talking about? Will he ensure that we are not just talking about the dates of kings and queens, but about the history of working people in this country?

I absolutely agree that we need to make sure that the division between primary and secondary is appropriate for both. As for the history of working people, this is the first draft of the national history curriculum that mentions not only the role of Annie Besant, who helped to lead the match girls’ strike in east London, but also the Tolpuddle Martyrs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, like me, would celebrate an understanding of labour history alongside economic, political and social history.

Thirty A-level students from my constituency visited Parliament with their teachers recently, and they told me that they need a broad history curriculum for later on in life. They also told me that if the Secretary of State goes ahead with the kind of proposals that have been mentioned in the press recently, that will not be possible for them and he will see a sharp drop-off in the numbers taking A-level history.

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am reassured by the enthusiasm that has been shown by parents and students for a deeper immersion in British history. It is sadly the case that an insufficient number of students leave school with a proper knowledge of Britain’s past. I want them to know about the achievements of heroes and heroines so that they can take pride in what these islands have achieved.

Pursuant to that answer, may I invite my right hon. Friend to tell the nation how important it is that our children understand those great heroes of the past? For example, Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane, a former Member of this House for this notable city of Westminster, not only captured 53 ships of the French flag when he commanded HMS Speedy, but went on to liberate Chile from Spanish rule and Brazil from Portuguese rule. As a result, in both those countries there is not a child who has not heard of Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane, while there is not a child in this country who has.

I had a feeling that the hon. Gentleman might want an Adjournment debate on the subject—and then I realised that he has had one.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. There are a number of British maritime heroes, and indeed heroines, of whom we should know more, from Grace Darling to Thomas Cochrane, and from Nelson to Mountbatten. We should be aware of the role that the Royal Navy, the merchant navy and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution have played in ensuring that people are safe on the high seas and, critically, that nations can enjoy liberty now in the same way we have enjoyed it for generations.