My Lords, I thank all noble Lords in advance for their contributions to today’s debate. I have believed for some time that some vital improvements are overdue in the teaching of, and the importance placed on, history in the United Kingdom. The knowledge afforded to us from learning history forces us to think about who we are; to consider our national identity and responsibilities; to decide whether we live in isolation and selfishness and therefore choose to be passive or whether we go forth and make a difference to the world around us—to learn, to be aware and to be considerate of others’ beliefs and traditions and to ensure that previous mistakes are not repeated.
There is a common saying that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It is obvious that we must learn from our past, but to do so we must know our past. Through learning about remarkable individuals and how they shaped our historical landscapes over time, it becomes clear that we all have our roles to play, as did they. Our children are our future, as we were to our forefathers, and history is the key to their future. It is imperative that history be taught, and taught properly. The history that we know does not belong to us; we merely help to contribute to it and protect it for the next generation. It is our duty to ensure that we pass on this knowledge so that our children can, we hope, benefit from it by learning from mistakes which have occurred in the past and, ultimately, by improving the world in which they live—and so the cycle continues.
If taught well, history introduces all kinds of transferable and highly valuable skills, such as an appreciation of the significance of cause and effect and the ability to understand and analyse complex arrangements. Learning about past human relations, and about human nature itself, enhances one’s social awareness and, of course, our sense of national identity. In addition, good general historical knowledge produces a good grounding and jolly good common sense, which is perhaps the most important skill of all.
Knowledge of this subject is seen by many as a valuable currency. For example, the Russell group of universities openly admits that those who possess history qualifications have always been, and still are, immensely attractive candidates when deciding who to take on at degree level. That is why it worries me that the same importance is often not placed on the teaching of history at the earlier stages of the schooling process. England is now the only European country that does not require that history be taught to the age of 15 or 16, and growing numbers of pupils are being allowed to drop the subject at 13. Ofsted reported that 102 maintained secondary schools entered no students to sit GCSE history in 2010. Some 30 per cent of pupils in state schools took history at GCSE last year, and only 20 per cent in academies, compared with 50 per cent in the independent sector. I am afraid that this is affecting the most disadvantaged young people in our society—the very ones for whom a good, well-rounded education is one of their only hopes of improving the quality of their lives.
There are concerns that some young people are being steered into more restrictive pathways, and that these are the most likely to be eligible for free school meals and to live in areas of greater social deprivation. What is being done to target these young people specifically, to ensure that they get the help and encouragement they need? Of all the pupils entered for GCSE history in 2010, roughly 67 per cent passed with grades A to C. Of all those who took GCSE history and were eligible for free school meals, 46 per cent achieved grades A to C. Similar trends can be seen at A-level, and this has a knock-on effect for universities. According to the schools White Paper, of the approximately 600,000 children who enter state education every year, some 80,000 are eligible for free school meals. Only 45 of those students made it to Oxbridge. That figure is up by 12.5 per cent on the year before, when only 40 made it. That increase is welcome, and I commend the Department for Education for it, but the figure is still very low. I would be interested to know what proportion of children eligible for free school meals made it to any university.
I have always believed that our primary goal in politics is to make opportunities equally available for all and to narrow the gap between rich and poor—the advantaged and the disadvantaged. As Michael Gove said recently:
“It is only through reforming education that we can allow every child the chance to take their full and equal share in citizenship, shaping their own destiny, and becoming masters of their own fate”.
I completely agree. Everybody deserves this equal opportunity. Sadly, it seems that it is the most disadvantaged children who are missing out. We must not continue to fail them. Put simply, if one does not know enough, one is at serious risk of not achieving one’s full potential. We must ensure that all our children, particularly the most disadvantaged, fulfil their potential. I know that the Government are acutely aware of this issue and are committed to correcting it. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the plans in this respect?
Last month the Historical Association published a report in which it noted that the only access to specialist history teaching for two-thirds of young people is during key stage 3. From then on specialist expertise fast disappears in many schools. We in the UK are lucky to have so many fantastic teachers, but what is being done to entice more talent into the profession and to ensure that history teachers are always properly trained and possess the expertise and enthusiasm that is necessary to do the subject real justice? I mention enthusiasm specifically because that is the reason why I studied history when I was lucky enough to go to university. I was taught by some extremely able and enthusiastic teachers.
In their report, the Ofsted inspectors cited that a particular problem with the teaching of history was an unbalanced curriculum that paid too much attention to particular topics at the expense of others. Some of our children are missing out on learning about some of the most important individuals and events of our heritage. The Prime Minister once remarked that the composition of the history curriculum was tapas-like, whereby children are given bite-sized and disconnected instruction on isolated events, and no narrative. I have to say that I agree. I am astounded when I read stories about one set of children thinking that Winston Churchill is the nodding dog character in the television adverts for insurance. I read only the other day that our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord West, was spotted on the Central line wearing his full military attire. When an eight year-old asked him why he was dressed in that way, the noble Lord replied, “Because I am in the Navy”. The boy then asked him, “What is the Navy?”. This is incredibly alarming and surely must not continue.
What is being done to ensure that the history curriculum is properly composed in a chronological manner so that children can place what they learn in a logical way in their minds? Can the Minister also tell us what is being done to make the subject more accessible to children and more exciting to study?
The only thing that we have learnt from history is that we never learn from history. That is a very bleak forecast, but it has been promulgated on many occasions. I just hope that it does not always happen. I dearly hope that it is not true. I am very aware of the work that our great team in the Department for Education is doing and I am confident that it will take on, is aware of, and is working on many of the issues that noble Lords will highlight today. I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister and all my noble colleagues have to say. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support everything that the noble Lord has said about the teaching of history and commend his appalling account of the record of history teaching as it now stands in our schools. I deplore that situation and I call on the Minister to see that it is rectified as soon as possible.
Let me quote WH Auden, who wrote:
“I and the public know
What all school children learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return”.
It is a legendary phrase that he wrote in his poem on 1 September 1939. The phrase “all school children learn” was one that he could use then and everyone accepted it. That is no longer the case. All schoolchildren do not learn. A consensus has gone.
The consensus has gone because over the recent generation there have been what you could call curriculum wars. They arose because a generation of postmodern writers analysed history and came to the conclusion that it was merely entirely subjective and a narrative that was the propaganda of one particular segment, and that being subjective no-one could decide whose history to teach. Those wars went on in academic circles to the detriment of young people. You could imagine that, for example, over the teaching of the history of Ireland. Do we teach the Catholic or the Protestant version? Whose version? One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Whose version do we teach? The chaos of these arguments over the teaching of what truth is—when can you call a fact a fact and not propaganda?—created a crisis in the teaching of history itself.
Bernard Williams, a philosopher, in his book Truth and Truthfulness, drew on what has been an ongoing debate since the time of the Greeks—the postmodernists did not invent it, although they aggravated it. Bernard Williams quoted Clemenceau who, when asked what future historians would say about the First World War, said:
“They will not say that Belgium invaded Germany”.
We can also be confident that Archbishop Ussher, the Primate of All Ireland, was wrong to claim in the 17th century that the world began on 23 October 4004 BC—that that was the day of creation. He believed it, he spoke it as truth, and he was wrong. Knowledge changes over time.
We know that the victors write the history. We have in this building a painting that demonstrates that Wellington defeated Napoleon and that the British were the victors at Waterloo. The Prussians beg to disagree; but the overriding fact was that Napoleon was defeated. These curriculum wars have brought us to this sad state of affairs and it is important that we reinstate history for the three benefits that I shall name. I am sure that noble Lords will mention many others. History teaches us the timeline of humanity. It teaches us chronology and what it means for the human race. I was asked by a small child, who was not that small and should have known better, “Did the Tudors come after the Victorians?”. They need to know. There is virtue in knowing about the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors and the Stuarts because in that way children can understand the nature of monarchy in this country today. That is very important, enriching and a pleasure to know.
Secondly, history teaches cause and effect, as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, said. Have we ever resolved what the causes of the French Revolution were? Have we always gone on writing essays about them? How fruitful it is to revisit such a subject—the causes of the Industrial Revolution or the Russian Revolution? Revolution figures quite a lot in these causation debates. Only this morning, Andreas Whittam-Smith, writing in the Independent, asks, “Is the world heading for a new revolution?”. In his article, he cites the circumstances of 1848 when, as noble Lords will know, Europe was swept by revolution. He cites the causes of the 1848 revolution and suggests that they are available today, and that we should think about that. Understanding cause and effect will make us think about our present society.
History teaches judgment. Over the years, history has taught us to judge the slave trade. It has taught us to judge Victorian society—its virtues as well as child labour and squalid industrial circumstances. It has taught us to celebrate the emancipation of women. Recently, the Tricycle Theatre in London put on a series of 12 short plays in groups of four, running over three nights. Called “The Great Game”, it is about British involvement in Afghanistan since 1940. It sold out. Sir David Richard, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that it was as historically accurate as you would get in any lesson. The audience was full of people from the Ministry of Defence, soldiers, civil servants, Sandhurst cadets, and people who wanted to know the history of British involvement in Afghanistan. The British were not the only ones. The plays then went to Washington and were played at the Pentagon.
There is a greed for history. There is a greed to know how we got here. How did this situation arise? It is directly significant in all our lives today. There is a yearning for history in people’s hearts. People may miss out at school, but when the new archive building opened at Kew, it was inundated with people seeking their genealogy—those who wanted to know about their ancestry and to feed their identity.
The television programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” has a big following. It teaches people how to go to church not for the religion necessarily but to seek out records of births, marriages and deaths and of their families. History is also expressed in the civic pride we find when cities are full of plaques on the walls, indicating to us where important people lived and what they contributed. With my background, I am particularly fond of one on a rather posh Manchester hotel that records Peterloo and what that massacre stood for in the movement towards democratic reform.
History gives us our identity and a perspective. It allows us to understand the issues of the past about which we might feel some guilt—a wish to apologise even—but it teaches us who we are. It gives us local, civic pride and national pride. We must not deprive our children of that.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Luke on calling for this important debate. When thinking about it, three things occurred to me: my grandson’s pet hen, the Secretary of State for Education’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2010 and the EBacc. Let me explain. Recently my grandson got a pet chicken. When he was asked what he wanted to call it, he said, “Boudicca”. We were all a little taken aback because we thought he was going to say “Henrietta”, or “Hyacinth” or something like that.
It made me ask him some questions about what he was learning in his history lessons at school and he knew as much as most of us know about that mysterious and warlike queen. Then I looked in some detail at the national curriculum document for key stage 1 for 5 to 7 year-olds. It states that during key stage 1,
“pupils learn about people's lives and lifestyles. They find out about significant men, women, children and events from the recent and more distant past, including those from both Britain and the wider world. They listen and respond to stories and use sources of information to help them ask and answer questions and learn how the past is different from the present”.
It goes on to indicate that they are expected to acquire a chronological understanding of events and objects, develop an understanding of events, people and changes in the past, find out about the past from different sources, select from that knowledge and communicate it in a variety of ways.
That struck me as quite challenging and interesting and absolutely fine for a young child. Then I read what the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Michael Gove, said in his speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2010, which was:
“Children are growing up ignorant of one of the most inspiring stories I know—the history of our United Kingdom … The current approach we have to history denies children the opportunity to hear our island story. Children are given a mix of topics at primary, a cursory run through Henry VIII and Hitler at secondary and many give up the subject at 14, without knowing how the vivid episodes of our past become a connected narrative”.
If that really were the state of affairs, it would be extremely sad. However, I had difficulty in connecting the two things: the curriculum that I had read and my right honourable friend’s speech. Even for such young children, the curriculum talks about the history of Britain and chronological understanding. It also seems to me to have a balance between acquiring knowledge and skills. So I looked further to see what Mr Gove's problem was and I discovered that all children have to study history up to the age of 14—that is, during their first nine years of schooling.
Perhaps there is a problem with the curriculum for older children. I found that at key stage 2, 7 to 11 year-olds do more of everything that is in key stage 1 and they also learn about changes and continuity in their own area. They are expected to look at history in a number of ways, such as political, economic, technological and scientific, social, religious, cultural and aesthetic. Again they have to use different methods and sources to investigate and use dates and historical vocabulary to describe events, and learn that the past can be interpreted in different ways. They have to do three British history studies and studies in European and world history. Even those latter ones incorporate looking at Britain in a European or world context.
I was still puzzled about where the problem was. I then looked at key stage 3 for 11 to 14 year-olds. They study people and events in Britain from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, build on chronological understanding and are expected to develop further awareness of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, changes across different historical periods, causes and consequences—the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said that was important—the significance of historical events and assess the validity of different historians’ interpretations. They are being asked to develop critical thinking. It occurred to me that this should really help to develop their critical skills and we do, of course, want to develop critical thinkers in this country.
When I was at school, history was a very passive subject for me and I was bored stiff. I repeated the Middle Ages for three years running, but still know far too little about it. It was better in primary school where we were able to do some project work which was much more engaging. So, looking at what the curriculum requires, it is hard to know what the problem is. Yes, I accept that the number studying history at GCSE and A-level are going down, but all children have already had nine years of history and that should be enough for many of them if it is well taught.
I will return to that. However, I do not believe that interest in history ends when you leave school. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, you have only to look at the popularity of history programmes on the television and the enormous membership figures of the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland. History, personal in relation to family trees and national, has become one of the major activities for older people. Programmes such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” of which I am a keen fan, and the many heritage programmes on television, have very high viewing figures and schools television programmes are also excellent. This started decades ago with the famous “Civilisation” series.
However, I listened recently to a Radio 4 programme about the teaching of history and they did a lot of vox pops. Here I heard a clue to the problem identified by the Secretary of State. Those contributors who enjoyed history and really learnt something had specialist teachers who were passionate about their subject and communicated that to their pupils. Here I think we have a problem. The Historical Association—as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, said—conducted a survey of history teachers this year and they, and Ofsted too, concluded that there is much to celebrate. They said:
“This is not a narrow curriculum, as the Secretary of State suggested, confined to Henry VIII and Hitler”.
That is not my opinion, but that of the expert historians. Having looked at the curriculum, I am afraid I agree with them. However, we should also take note of something else they found: that 67 per cent of the teachers surveyed did not have a history adviser in their area; 49 per cent said they had little or no training for subject leadership; and 90 per cent said there was an absence of subject-specific continuous professional development. As the noble Lord, Lord Luke, pointed out, two-thirds of young people get access to a specialist teacher only when they get to secondary school and sometimes not even then.
That makes history advisers and CPD really important if we are going to have confident teachers who can communicate a passion for the subject. Only then are we going to get enough young people taking GCSE and going on to A-level and history degrees. Only then will we produce enough history graduates to provide more specialist history teachers, as well as enough people to fill all the other posts that require professional historians.
History is important. It helps to develop in young people many of the same skills and critical attitudes and understanding of methodology as science does. If you want to know why history is important, you need only look at what happens to someone who completely loses their personal history by losing their memory. They are adrift. They lose the ability to understand themselves through the prism of their own past. Nations are the same. They understand themselves and are better equipped to face their future if they know about and understand their past.
What are the Government doing about this? That brings me to my third point: the EBacc. I understand from the statement to me of the Minister for Schools, Mr Nick Gibb, that the reason for the EBacc is,
“to ensure that more children study history”.
I presume he means that more 14 to 16 year-olds study history, as all five to 14 year-olds do so anyway. The Government have been at pains to say that the EBacc is only one of many ways in which schools will be judged and that they only want to ensure that all children have the opportunity to study history at GCSE level. That may well be, but the best way to ensure that young people study hard, make an effort and come out of school with some confidence-building success behind them is to ensure that they can study those subjects which are most appropriate for them. It is also a fact that not all schools see it that way. They think that they will be judged on the EBacc, and we find that they are staffing up to deliver it at the expense of other subjects such as RE, music and vocational subjects. That is a problem.
I certainly do not agree with Simon Schama's conclusion that we are creating two nations of young Britons: those who grow up with a sense of our shared memory and those who have been encouraged to treat it as little more than an ornamental polishing for the elite. Having read his article in the London Review of Books of March this year, I am much more inclined to agree with Richard Evans, who says about the national curriculum:
“There seems to be plenty of factual content in all this, plenty of kings and queens too. The examples the curriculum provides for teaching history to children from 7 to 11 make mention of 36 significant individuals, ranging from Boudicea and Caractacus to Livingstone and Brunel. From 11 to 14, children study the whole sweep of British history from 1066 to 1900”.
He points out that assessment concentrates 70 per cent on knowledge and 30 per cent on skills, so why Mr Gove thinks that facts and names play no part in all this is a mystery. Richard Evans concludes, and I agree, that the problem is not in the curriculum but in schools' ability to deliver it. Therefore my question to my noble friend is: what do the Government plan to do about that? Are the new teacher training schools to be involved? What sort of specialist support will be available to non-specialist teachers, who will inevitably have to deliver history, in particular in primary schools?
Finally, I express the hope that those carrying out the curriculum review will not feel the need to throw the current curriculum up in the air as a kneejerk reaction to one or two critical and opinionated historians but instead to seek the views of a wide and balanced range of them. The only lesson of history may be that we do not learn the lessons of history, but we should try.
My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest to begin with, because one of my books was a set book for Eton on the Spanish civil war. Therefore, what the Etonians had to study was something about which I had thought a good deal. Although I am not a teacher of history, I have taught in universities; although I am not a schoolboy, I have an interest in the debate.
The aim should be to give to everyone who goes to school in this country a broad knowledge of the history of the country. I do not think that foreign countries are as important in the teaching of history as is the teaching of history in Britain. That teaching should concentrate on five things: first, the growth of political liberty; secondly, the industrial revolution; thirdly, the expansion of Britain overseas to the Empire; fourthly, some feeling of the importance of English literature and art throughout the ages, which is one of the reasons why we are admired outside this country; and, fifthly, some view of our relations with the continent of Europe, which has been such a continuous part of our political and intellectual development from the Middle Ages onwards—and, indeed, before. Do not forget that, had things gone differently at Orléans in 1430, this country would have achieved that union with France which Winston Churchill wanted to achieve in 1940.
Speaking of those five separate undertakings, I believe that the winning of political liberty in this country is something on which we should dwell. It was not as easy as it must seem. Some of those who challenge it now seem to think that it is not worth talking about. The effort to achieve habeas corpus, constant elections and the rule of law was not an easy undertaking. It took many generations to perfect it. It would be good if in most schools students—pupils—were brought up to understand the golden age of British politics. One might say that that was the 1790s, the age of Pitt, Charles James Fox, Burke, Sheridan and so on; unless one thinks that it would be better to concentrate on the 19th century, the age of Disraeli and Gladstone or of Gladstone and Salisbury.
The history of the industrial revolution should also be discussed. The industrial revolution is sometimes vilified as if it has brought ugliness, unhappiness and misery. That is not the case. It has vastly increased human comfort and the number of people employed and opened up a new world to a far more satisfied population.
The Empire, the expansion of Britain, should also be discussed. There are several sections to that: the North American empire, the African empire, the Middle East empire, the empire in the Far East, concentrated on the Malay States and Singapore, and Australasia. Those are five separate undertakings by which we as a nation are judged. I belong to a family which served continuously in both India and Africa. I am aware that one can criticise my ancestors or my uncles, but I know that they thought that they were doing the right thing not only for this country but for the peoples of the countries concerned, to whom they were bringing culture, Christianity and civilisation—three major “C”s which they never forgot.
The fourth British achievement—in the arts—should also not be forgotten. We are admired as the nation of Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Shelley, Dickens and Scott just as much as we are as the nation of Pitt, Fox, and so on. There is no question but that such writers as Sir Walter Scott and Dickens are still in the mind of all educated Europeans— indeed, of all citizens of the world.
Finally, there is the relation with Europe. This is a permanently quarrelsome topic but the fact is that British history has been continuously a part of Europe. We have always been in Europe. The mere fact that our main square is called Trafalgar Square and our main station is called Waterloo is a reminder of that. Our monarchs have been alternately French and German, as well as Welsh and Scottish, but our relation with Europe characterises all our military activity throughout recorded history.
I think these five sections should play a part in national education in a major way and the subject should be approached as if they were the essential underpinnings of the historical memory which we are trying to stimulate, develop and achieve.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who is a most distinguished historian. He referred very modestly to his work on the Spanish civil war but no more seminal work has been produced in this country in the past 50 years. He did not refer, modestly or otherwise, to his history of the slave trade. I wish he had because it is a book that would commend itself to all those Members of your Lordships’ House who have not yet read it.
This is a very important debate and I am most grateful, as we all are, to my noble friend Lord Luke not only for introducing it but for the manner in which he did so. Over the nearly 42 years now that I have been associated with this place I have on many occasions taken parties of school children round this building, which I love and will love to my dying day. I have always taken them to the Royal Gallery and I have gone through the kings and queens whose portraits hang there from the first of the Hanoverians onwards. I have talked of the two great paintings by Daniel Maclise, which are being looked at for restoration. There is a great difference between the parties that I used to take round in the early 1970s and the parties that I have taken round more recently. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to the phrase that every schoolboy knows. In the early 1970s when I talked about the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Waterloo—the pictures of which, incidentally, had to be covered up when Giscard d’Estaing addressed both Houses here—every member of the group that I was showing round would know about Waterloo and Trafalgar. In more recent years that has not been the case.
As a young man before I entered the House of Commons I was for 10 years a schoolmaster. I taught history. I had charge of the history curriculum in two schools. I made sure that the boys—I am afraid they were all boys in those days in the schools in which I taught—when they reached the age of 16 all had a reasonable, chronological knowledge of the history of their country. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is right to say that it is the history of our country that we should be primarily concerned with. I made sure that all those boys knew about the great events in English history and the great people who had moulded those events, be it Wycliffe and the Lollards and the first attempt at an English Bible, Hampden and Pym in the 17th century, those great orators of the 18th century to whom the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred, or Gladstone and Disraeli. One liked to try and enliven one’s lessons by telling amusing stories. I always loved the one about Disraeli and Gladstone when Disraeli said that if Mr Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a great misfortune but if somebody pulled him out it would be a calamity. By means of anecdotes one could bring alive the history of the country in a way to which young people responded.
In more recent years when I have shown people round there has often been a look of blank incredulity and ignorance when I have talked of some of the great names of our past. Why is that the case? I am afraid I do not share the sanguine view of the history curriculum held by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. What may be said in the curriculum papers is not necessarily brought forth in the classroom. I think that Mr Gove was entirely justified in making the remarks that he made in 2010 and I hope that my noble friend, when he comes to respond to this debate, will be able to give your Lordships some encouragement. The knowledge of our history is the birthright of every child in this country. To deprive a child of his or her birthright is an act of wanton intellectual and academic vandalism. It is essential that all our children have a knowledge of our history so that when they leave school they can fit into the framework of national events the things about which they read in the contemporary press.
We were recalled to this House in August to discuss those dreadful, disfiguring riots. There was unanimous consternation here at what had happened. I put forward a suggestion, which I want to repeat. I said that every young man or woman leaving school, be it at the age of 16 or 18, should go through the same sort of ceremony that those who now aspire to British citizenship must go through and that in order to do so they must be able to demonstrate a certain knowledge of the history of their country. We have a golden opportunity coming up to do something about this.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way but this point is pertinent to what he has just said about those rioters. Is he talking about teaching history, as he and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, have described it, or should we not have more about the people’s history of Britain? There is another dimension to history teaching on which a number of very commendable books have been written which turn the world upside down. Would he reflect on that as well?
I hope that I reflect on all sorts of things as I make my meandering remarks but I will not allow myself to be too diverted by the noble Lord’s intervention.
The point I am seeking to make is that I believe that those who leave school to go into the wider world should be proud of their British birthright, which means that they must have a knowledge of the history of this country. I was going on to say that I believe there is a golden opportunity coming up because in 2015 we will be commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Only yesterday I was talking in my capacity as chairman of the History of Parliament Trust to Sir Robert Worcester who is chairing the committee on Magna Carta. I asked him whether it would not be a marvellous idea if in that year every school leaver in the country was given a facsimile of Magna Carta and an account of what it meant for the foundation of our liberties. That would be a good thing and would help concentrate the mind.
Anniversaries are good. This morning at Question Time—rather mischievously, because it was not relevant to the Question—the noble Lord, Lord West, talked about Trafalgar Day, which is tomorrow. How many people out there know that Trafalgar Day is tomorrow? Should it not be incumbent on those who teach history in our schools to ensure that every child knows that Trafalgar Day is tomorrow, just as they should know the significance of 11 November? Of course, in three years’ time we will have an opportunity to reflect on the beginning of the First World War.
The problem today is that there is a pick and mix attitude to history teaching in schools. Very often there is a constant emphasis on the Second World War. I was born just before the beginning of that terrible war and of course I yield to no one in acknowledging how tremendously important and life-changing for everyone around the world it was. However, that is not the sum total of history. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about cause and effect, as did my noble friend Lord Luke. If people are going to understand the Second World War, they have to understand the First World War; and if they are going to understand the First World War, they have to understand the French Revolution, to which the noble Baroness referred. If they are going to understand that, they have to understand our revolutions of the 17th century: the bloody one, which resulted in the death of the king, and the glorious one, as we often call it, through which the true foundations of parliamentary democracy were laid and the absolute power of the monarch came to an end without bloodshed. All these things they have to know.
It is important that we should discuss these matters in the House. This evening I will have the honour of presiding at a small dinner for a group of fellow members of the Royal Historical Society. We shall meet David Willetts, the Minister in charge of universities, to discuss the teaching of history in universities. This is a follow-up to a similar dinner that I arranged last year for Royal Society members to meet Michael Gove to discuss the teaching of history in schools. A golden thread links the two: we want more young people in our schools to read history at university. We hope that when they do, it will give them a comprehensive knowledge of history such as is not always the case at the moment. I have a son of whom I am extremely proud. He read history at a great university. He knows nothing at all about the Middle Ages, although he has a very good degree. That cannot be right.
We have an opportunity today to point to and underline the fundamental importance of the study of our past. My noble friend introduced the debate very eloquently on that score. We also have a duty to ask the Minister to do all that he can with the Secretary of State to ensure that the centrality of history in the curriculum of our schools is underlined. History must be chronological and as all-embracing as possible. Young people must study it to the age of 16 at least, and when they leave school they should not only have knowledge, but knowledge of which they are truly proud.
My Lords, we are all in debt to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for the debate. It is a pleasure to take part and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has done so much in his career to promote history and heritage. I declare an interest as chair of English Heritage and also, in another life, as a makeshift historian. Sadly, I was never taught either by my charismatic noble friend Lord Morgan or by any of the other historians in the Chamber—sadly, not even by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
The debate is extremely timely because it is timeless. At its heart are questions that surround the whole purpose of teaching history and how we find the right way to teach it. Dictatorships have never had a problem with the importance and purpose of teaching history, and they have come up with similar solutions. Democracies, too, wrestle with this, and many questions raised in the House are fundamental to a democratic appreciation of the importance of history. Even in a country such as ours, with a very placid trajectory, we have wrestled with these questions for decades if not centuries.
The teaching of a subject that raises the issue of what constitutes the national past and what should be taught in schools is a study in history itself. It is a brave debate to embark on, and it is a brave Minister who, in summing up, will have to try to reconcile all the different views. I have been helped to find my own way through this thicket by the work of David Cannadine. I was very happy that he gave me access to a book he is about to publish called The Teaching of History. I am very grateful to him for the brief glimpse he gave me of a very powerful thesis in which he charts the disagreements over the teaching and learning of history in this country over the past century. There is no doubt that, in a very decentralised curriculum that serves an astonishing variety of schools and a diverse system generally, the teaching of history has been fraught with disagreements, at least since 1870 if not earlier—I am sure my noble friend could correct me.
Until the 1980s and the coming of the national curriculum, the power to influence through the Secretary of State was very limited. Now, with the national curriculum and its relationships with examinations, almost as many issues are being raised. Many of them were raised in this debate, with controversies around them. The fundamental question is whether history matters. If it does not, it is hard to explain the fascination demonstrated already across the Chamber, for example with “The Tudors” on television or with the great blockbusting historical novels or, indeed, the great popularity of anniversaries. If one wants an example of how government interferes with the presentation of history, the account of Prince Albert chairing the Fine Arts Commission, and the commissioning of the Maclise portraits in the new German technology, on which he insisted, is fascinating. I commend Malcolm Hay, our curator, for that knowledge.
If history does not matter, why is there so much evident concern with the fact that fewer than one-third of students take history beyond 14? Why is there anxiety among teachers themselves about the lack of specialist knowledge in primary schools? Why is there an agonised debate about narrative versus bore-hole theories of history? I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that many of these issues will be raised in the curriculum review. History does matter, and must be seen to matter. That is crucial. In a complex, liberal and individualistic society such as ours, consciousness of the past is even more important. The more sophisticated that our society becomes and the more that we move away from linear, simplistic interpretations, the more we need history. Of course it is about identity and it is central to our sense of place, significance, perspective and proportion. I was fascinated by the account of the dramatic interpretations of British relations with Iraq. For the past 10 years I have yearned for our Governments to know more about the history of British relations with the Middle East in general.
History offers at least two particular, related motivations for learning. One is that it is full of ripping yarns and feeds our appetite for more stories. One of my GCSE heroes was Jethro Tull and the seed drill, although I cannot imagine that he is a very popular figure these days. The Elizabethan spymasters, too, captured my imagination. Having talked to a few leading historians this week, including some from the better history forum, which involves both academics and teachers, it seems that a key issue is time itself—time in the school day. Evidence suggests that since 2007 the curriculum has been eaten away in terms of time and focus. Head teachers are under pressure to get results. One result is that in many schools the time available for history is heavily restricted. In some, the discipline survives as a discrete subject; in others, it is treated principally as serving other disciplines. The picture is very patchy, especially in primary schools.
In secondary schools there is a growing tendency to cram key stage 3 into two years. This can mean that, in effect, many pupils get only two years of specialist history teaching before they give the subject up. The rest of Europe might be shocked to know that we have students giving up history completely at 13. I have to ask the Minister why he thinks so many schools are losing the battle. How can we incentivise head teachers? What impact is the EBacc going to have in this respect? Crucially, does he agree with the case made by many historians these days that history should be compulsory to 16? Does he agree that this would drive a more coherent and integrated syllabus across key stages 3 and 4?
This is a salient question because, no matter how we read history, whether we are on the side of the great sweeping narrative or we see the virtues of the in-detail study of Henry VIII or Hitler, there is a tension here. We do not go in for the great historical panorama set pieces any more. I do not want to use another food analogy, but it has been described as the YO! Sushi approach to history, where one just tastes little bits of history and studies short blocks of time intensively. Whether or not this approach allows a better understanding of historical debates and engagement with original materials—and I think possibly it does—it certainly leaves students, as Ofsted put it, with,
“an episodic knowledge of history”,
and a sense of time that is unclear. At GCSE level there is a sort of swerve back into narrative history but the complaint here is the isolated use of texts without the connecting tissue of context.
The question of what is taught, and how, raises questions around the need for transparency of the assessment and examination system. Again, I hope the curriculum review might address this. I do not want to put the Minister on the spot but there is a big question about whether the Government should have a greater role in determining detailed content of the curriculum to avoid, for example, eccentric programmes of study. Another subset of this tension between narrative and episodic teaching is between what could be parodied as the Gradgrind approach to history—“Facts, my boy!”—and the approach that determines that history is a splendid way of developing other analytical skills and competences. Again, this is an active debate in our schools today.
I too have read the Historical Association reports about the absence of specialist teaching and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was quite right to point to that as absolutely central to how we read and develop this debate into better learning and teaching. By the sound of it, it is possible that some students can go through their entire school career without ever being taught by specialist teachers. Ofsted talks about teachers failing to establish,
“a clear mental map of the past”,
because they lack expertise and because of the disconnected way the national curriculum treats topics.
Finally, one point of particular relevance to bodies such as English Heritage is the proposition from the better history forum that the Government should work from the outset with professional bodies and resource providers to ensure that the curriculum is fully resourced. I say amen to that, because surely history is above all an adventure—an active and participative adventure. When children are engaged with learning they are motivated to learn more, and when they visit our great monuments and sites, whether in school or sometimes more successfully out of school, they do not engage with bricks and mortar but they engage with their imaginations.
There is a problem with time and resources in schools—it is a crowded curriculum. I hope the Minister agrees that time and resources are well spent when schools commit to out-of-school learning. English Heritage is fully engaged with this, as noble Lords will understand. We have wonderful resources that we download into classrooms and then we upload students into our sites and monuments. Anyone who has seen the legions of 10 year-old Roman soldiers at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall—making Roman lamps no less—or encountered a group of tiny children acting out the life of the Victorian servant class in Apsley House, will know that these children will always want more history and that heritage for them is not actually the past, it is something that enriches and explains their future.
One of my ambitions is to make those occasional encounters a substantial and systematic part of the relationship between local schools and local history and the national story. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that he would like to see his five themes; I would actually like to see more attention in the curriculum to the local history of our country and, of course, the four countries in our nation. I would also make a plea for more study of the impact of science and technology.
For noble Lords who have not been there, I should say that Dover Castle is a brilliant example of how history reinvents itself. Dover Castle was not only an Iron Age hill fort at the beginning of our story; it concludes with the wartime tunnels—opening this summer—from which Admiral Ramsay, a rather neglected figure, saved the soldiers from Dunkirk, when 300,000 men were taken off the beaches. We have the whole story of England in one site. How much better can it get?
Finally, I do not entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I actually share Simon Schama’s concerns that if less history is taught in some schools—those schools might be the academy schools, and I would like the Minister to comment on whether that is possibly the case—there can be a schizophrenia, which is to say a sense of shared memory and shared appreciation of history among one group of people and a lack of interest and appreciation among another. That has huge implications, not just for culture but for a diverse nation which has to come to terms with a number of different stories and histories. I believe that this is an issue. As Simon Schama said,
“a truly capacious British history …will not be the feeder of identity politics but its dissolvent”.
That is one of the many very serious questions raised by this debate.
My Lords, when it comes to a debate on history I am afraid I bring a little history of my own into this. The first time I got into a really nasty row with a member of my own party was about 23 years ago when I spoke on a debate on history in this House. It was when we were getting rid of the old O-level and replacing it with GCSE, and it was decided that this was not fact-driven enough. We had to do something else; we just could not have this new syllabus with things like empathy coming in. When I criticised the council leader who sacked a teacher who was, bizarrely, teaching to the then Scottish O-grade, I was attacked about it over the phone. I was quite joyful as a 26 year-old to tell a 45 year-old councillor to go and shove it and read the debate before he spoke to me again. Everybody has an opinion, everybody gets paranoid about history, because everybody assumes that the bit they are interested in is the bit we should be interested in—the bit that we find speaks to us should be the bit that somebody else should take on board.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke about the 18th and 19th centuries. I did the 18th and 19th centuries because I was at school in the 1970s. I did the O-level system where you actually learned lots of facts—we had O-level memory and we did not have any history, to be perfectly honest. Yes, we could run off all the Prime Ministers and the Acts they passed, but it did not tell you anything. It did not tell you how they related to each other or how anything went on from that. The noble Lord referred to the Glorious Revolution, so called because of course in England there was not any fighting; it was all in Ireland and Scotland—not quite so glorious there, possibly. Every time you take a little bit of history you have to look at it.
Probably the most profound historical exercise I undertook was to do with being best man at a wedding in France, believe it or not. I was best man to a university flatmate who also read history. The families were arguing over who should sit where. Over the second bottle of wine at a dinner party it was suggested that I might want to put all the French people on tables named after famous English victories over them, with the most embarrassing paragraph about that victory on the table, and the English the other way round. This was an extremely fun project. The best one I found was Yorktown for the English. You could say it was a French victory—and we had a few Americans there so they got annoyed as well; it was great—because the army of America was of course paid for by the French and there were nearly as many French soldiers outside and a French fleet besieging it, which is an interesting little fact to take back and annoy people with. You then get the idea: “But that’s not really fair. No, that’s not it”. But that is what happened. Unless you look at and embrace your failures and the things that went wrong in history, you will ultimately get it wrong. In looking at history, we tend to look at what makes us great. We should look at what made us bad as well and remember the fact that any nation which has been out there could almost drown in its own sins of failure or perhaps straightforward misunderstanding at any point.
Earlier, we heard that when people were in colonial service they thought that they were bringing culture and superiority to the societies which we were imperially controlling. I suggest that India might argue with us that it had a valid culture and a valid history. Its civilised and recorded history is rather better than ours. It is more interesting and more colourful. India must look at why it allowed this ridiculous nation thousands of miles away to take over the whole sub-continent, which is an equally interesting question.
This comes down to the question of how one takes this information and puts it into a classroom. My noble friend Lady Walmsley got it right when she read out what is prescribed in the history curriculum. It is a huge task, which, if anything, is too big. It is possible only with specialist support. Perhaps we are too ambitious and ask everyone to do rather more than they are capable of. A limit on what you are trying to do might be important. How can we possibly bring this together?
We come back to the fashions in history. People of my age were taught about the 18th and 19th centuries. Now it seems to be World War II and the Tudors—possibly not, but they seem to be the fashionable subjects that come up most often. What is more valid? One could spend a lifetime discussing that question and still not come to a conclusion that means anything. As has been pointed out, they are part of the same continuous street.
I have met professional historians—indeed, the much missed Lord Russell, who I remember would say when you got slightly outside his spectrum, “Oh, not my period”. He might have had a rough idea of what was going on but it was not his period. Most professional historians are like that. The arguments about fashion come back to the idea of the marxist versus the revisionist or the post-modernists. All of them basically play with ideas. Then we all have an opinion on the ideas. We have all done a little history or have all done some education, in that most of us have been to school. The idea of fashion comes in and out and always different pressures will be put on people as regards fashion.
We should not read too much into this. The one thing that we can be sure about is that fashion changes. People now attacking the system and the status quo will be attacked because that is what academics and politicians do. They feed off ideas. If history gives us an idea of place and of our place within our country, it will depend on how we teach that and how we connect it.
I shudder to say this with my noble friend Lady Benjamin at my left elbow: the fact is that if you come from an ethnic minority you may have a different sense of what is important in history from, for example, a white hereditary Peer. I am sure that different family connections go back through the system here. I know that my family provided people for the colonial service for quite a long time. There were different perceptions of what you did and what you should not do. Once again, people can drown in a sort of self-loathing for things that were done in days gone by which they would never do today. That is fashion or perception.
I say to my noble friend who will answer this debate that when we talk about history, we should try to remember that there is not a right answer. There are merely answers that will give some help and understanding. Is it a narrative guide to what happened in the past or is it an academic discipline? On using history to discover other things, I had a moment from my nine year-old daughter, who asked, “What is rape?”. I said, “Why do you want to know?”. She said, “Boudicca’s daughters were raped by the Romans”. That was a slightly less worrying reason for being asked that question than many I can think of.
Once you use history for various parts of education, you will always have to make sacrifices. The sacrifice that you will ultimately have to make if you teach more history is whether we should teach more English and maths. We all know that English and maths is appalling and has never been as good as it was—as it always was in my youth and, indeed, my mother’s youth, apparently.
English is a very difficult language to learn because of its two origins—French and German, thanks to the fact that the English were ruled over by French kings for several hundred years—which is probably one of the reasons. Perhaps history can help us with that. There is always a problem somewhere in the curriculum. Ever since we have had a national curriculum, there has been a constant cry to spend more time on the pet subject of the person speaking at the time. Recently, we have heard about nutrition, parenting, English is always coming up and now history. We must make a limit on this. History must be fit in as a coherent part of that whole. We will never get it right. A degree of flexibility may be important in the approach but if we say that there is one right way and one wrong way, all we will do is set up another row, which, after all, may be what the professional historians want.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Luke for securing today’s important debate. As previously outlined by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Walmsley, history is thankfully back in fashion. People are spending time researching their family history on the internet, and “A History of Ancient Britain” and “Mixed Britannia” are just some of the 36 episodes of historical programming available today on BBC iPlayer. I do not approach this debate as a TV producer, professional educationalist or historian but merely as the recipient of inspired history teaching at GCSE and A-level.
However, at the age of 18 I would have been a disappointment to many in your Lordships’ House. I had no overall timeline of British history. I would have struggled to give the correct century for the Battle of Waterloo; I had not covered a world war; and I just thought that it was quite curious that some borders in Africa happened to be straight lines. I know that I am not alone in that experience, as friends of mine spent a new-year holiday watching the boxed set of Simon Schama’s TV series “A History of Britain” back to back.
Over many years now, I have been privileged to know some of Britain’s black and ethnic-minority communities. I have watched as politicians and commentators have flailed around with concepts like multiculturalism and trying to redefine Britishness. Obviously the teaching of history in schools is not a silver bullet and I am not for one minute suggesting that we make teachers responsible for national identity. But I have become convinced that inspired teaching of our national story is an essential element in forming our national identity, which includes the English story and the multicultural story.
I say the “English story” deliberately. As a wise friend of mine said, people identify as British Asians, not English Asians. The teaching of the English story in schools is essential to the British identity and it has been, until recently, the missing part. Why is that? It should be simple—start perhaps with King Alfred and tell the narrative. But many of the English still do not know how to, or some say are not willing to, deal with parts of the national story.
In 2007, I was involved in organising an event to commemorate the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Again, politicians and commentators seemed unsure about how to handle the anniversary. Is it a celebration? Is it a commemoration? Do we apologise? This lack of national peace over contentious events does little to assist our history teachers who have to teach this without making white children feel bad and black children feel angry. It is not an easy task. As if the Empire and the transatlantic slave trade were not difficult enough, in the post-9/11 American response, President George W Bush saw fit to use the word “crusade”. I think many of the English wanted to go and hide. But national peace with our history will not come if children are not even taught the basic content of it. Analysis of events you do not even know about is of course impossible.
Simon Schama, the Government’s adviser on the national curriculum, puts it like this:
“Without this renewed sense of our common story—one full of contention not self-congratulation—we will be a poorer and weaker Britain”.
I believe we have been poorer and weaker as a people who do not know their own story and identity are more vulnerable to malevolent influences such as the EDL and the BNP.
In some senses Britain has always been multicultural as we are made up of four nations. Over the last 60 years, however, Britain has sought to include millions of people who often have a different heritage, culture and tradition. Without a strong English story being taught and known, who knows what these newer communities were expected to integrate with? However, the change in the British population means that the teaching of the nation’s history in schools is a more varied and perhaps a more challenging task. We all need to know why Britain is the way it is.
I remember one sunny afternoon at Hampton Court Palace when I happened to notice that virtually all the visitors were white. This caused me to reflect, and I realised that I felt connected to the history I was seeing there because my ancestors, whoever they were, were around at the time of Henry VIII. I did wonder, however, if the same could be said for some of my black friends. Maybe not, because the history of their ancestors at that time would of course be elsewhere. Some British black people will feel just as connected as I do but many will not. As a young black Londoner, Sam Kamasu, said to me only yesterday, young black people are not engaging with history as much as they should. Black youth in particular has such a multilayered history because black is such a large cluster—African and Caribbean, for instance. Many young people from this group struggle to find what history to connect with, especially second and third-generation migrants. At times they might find it difficult to identify with current course content. Allowing young people to shape their historical learning by choosing the content from earlier in the academic system may contribute to them being more inspired to keep on learning”.
I would ask the Minister to take this suggestion of allowing more choice in the content of the curriculum to Simon Schama, the Government’s adviser, and to those within Britain’s ethnic minorities whom Mr Schama and of course the department will be consulting with. Although many people acknowledge that the content of the curriculum has improved over recent years, many still feel that it does not appreciate the contribution of or tell the stories of those from Britain’s newer communities. This gap is being filled by initiatives such as Black History Month.
I learnt much about the sacrifice of Commonwealth soldiers in World War 2 from speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and novels such as Small Island by Andrea Levy. The Caribbean islanders were apparently never conscripted but chose to fight. It is stories like this that Britain’s Caribbean community want emphasising in the nation’s classrooms.
It is only since joining your Lordships’ House that I have had to begin speaking publicly about multiculturalism and diversity. In my previous role, I would always ask members of Britain’s black community to do this, not least because it is their tale often to tell. “My family history ends with a ship”, said Bishop Wayne Malcolm in 2007 to a dumbstruck audience of 800 people, including the current Prime Minister. “Thank you for your ancestors’ bravery and courage for bringing Christianity, healthcare and education to Ghana. Without their sacrifice, my family and I would not be where we are today”. That is my summary of Reverend Kingsley Appiagyei’s words to MPs, peers and councillors at a training event. Many had never before heard Britain’s contentious missionary history so described.
These perspectives and the courageous stories of migration to the UK need telling in the nation’s classrooms. I wonder if inviting different people into schools to tell their and their families’ stories would aid our history teachers as well as building community relationships. I would be grateful if the Minister would consider this suggestion.
Simon Schama is right. We cannot be self-congratulatory but we may find that some of those most affected by our past are more at ease and forgiving about what happened than the English might expect or indeed deserve. So I would suggest that Britain’s colonial history and the current heritage of the population necessitates that the national history taught in our classrooms contains strands of world history. Rightly or wrongly, Britain has been on the world stage and people came to live here as a result. This could be a tremendously exciting curriculum.
To conclude, it may seem too much perhaps to some people to link teaching history in schools, as I have done, to our national identity but I pray in aid the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who in his book The Home We Build Together argues for the need for a fragmented Britain to build a covenantally based society; one based on a mutually binding promise to one another sustained by loyalty, fidelity and faithfulness. He argues that a covenantally based society would,
“integrate diversity into national unity without asking anyone to abandon their independence or identity”.
How does the noble Lord suggest such covenantal societies achieve this lofty goal? They tell a story.
So if telling our story in the nation’s classrooms and through the media and around our dinner tables will give us anything like the strong sense of national identity the Jewish people around the world have retained, despite persecution and often living as a diaspora, it is a task well worth undertaking.
My Lords, history needs defence in Parliament. It has been ill served by parliamentarians in recent years. One of the many reasons why I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for an excellent Motion is that it enables us to make amends.
New Labour served history ill. It was unaware of the historical dimension. The essential quality of New Labour was that it was new—therefore. the past dealt with the old and therefore it was of less significance. That is not true of the two Labour leaders whose biography I had the privilege of writing—Lord Callaghan and Michael Foot. Jim Callaghan was very interested in history, particularly naval history. Michael Foot wrote a famous book on the politics of Queen Anne. They had a sense of history. So, too, did my famous countryman Nye Bevan; he did not have much schooling and did not go to university but had his famous story about how he would walk the hills known to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, above Tredegar. When he was lost he would turn to see where he had come from. The moral, said Nye, was that if you want to know where you are going you want to know where you have come from.
The present coalition is not much better. We have heard about the difficulties in schools where history is marginalised in the curriculum. We heard last week about how university funding for the teaching of history has been severely cut back, with serious effects on historical research. So history needs defending and yet it has, as so many noble Lords have said, huge appeal, growing journals and great appeal on television, particularly, I hope, when presented by professional historians and not by television personalities.
I never taught in a school, so to that degree I am totally unqualified to speak. I speak, perhaps, as a parent. The most successful course that my daughter did at her comprehensive school in Wales was one on social protest in Wales between 1800 and 1914. I believe it was written by one of my former pupils; perhaps I should declare an interest. It was very effective for many reasons, which produce some wider conclusions. First, it was about social history and change within society, particularly change in local society. You could see the toll houses or whatever the artefacts from the conflicts described were.
Secondly, it was covered through primary documents. It was very valuable for schoolchildren to look, for example, at some of the pamphlets of protest from that period.
Thirdly, it covered a decent span of time. I very much respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said on this. It covered the whole of the 19th century, indicating that history should not be a pick and mix or based on snippets and soundbites. You should be able to study a problem over a prolonged period.
Fourthly, it was also about conflict. I do not want to be misunderstood on this but history is a record of collision—of colliding ideas, classes and social and political movements. We just lost the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. I wanted to mention Sir Robert Peel’s career, of which the noble Lord wrote, which was about conflict over Catholic emancipation and the Corn Laws. It is very important that a history course for children should make the point that out of conflict can grow consensus. How was it, after those people were shot down outside the Westgate Hotel in Newport, that the Chartists’ demands were, in the fullness of time, largely accepted? I do not mind history being about conflict. Better that it should be about that than a mindless conformism or a mindless patriotism. People have different views. To quote Nye Bevan again:
“You tell me your truth and I’ll tell you mine”.
That is the way to approach history.
The awareness of history is essential for the maturing and development of young people. It is accessible to everybody. As one who has spent—I am afraid—the past 50-odd years of my life writing and teaching history, it is important that I should always bear in mind that it is for everybody, not just for other historians. Outreach is very important. I always commend the Historical Association and never turn down an opportunity to speak to it, even if it is to 10 men and a dog on a wet night in Manchester. It is important to approach your audience in that open way, and to look at history in the round and at its artefacts. I enormously commend the work of National Heritage, chaired by my noble friend Lady Andrews, and, in particular, the work of the People’s History Museum in Manchester, where you see documents and archives side by side with the physical artefacts of working-class history. It is nearly adjacent to the site of Peterloo, to which my noble friend Lady Bakewell referred.
There are many reasons to study history. It is fun; it stimulates curiosity; it is infinitely varied and colourful. It is a good intellectual training. It is not just a soft option for, as it were, would-be Guardian readers of the future. It is a powerful intellectual test. How do you know things? What is the evidence? How do you compare different kinds of evidence? When you consider such matters you do not need jargon. I am not so sure about some of my medieval colleagues but you do not need jargon; you can say it in plain English that everybody can understand. You do not need physical apparatus; you need only a working mind. History is available to all sentient beings.
As other noble Lords have said, history teaches a sense of perspective and change over time. This is true of even the contemporary history that some of us are said to teach. In even the most recent period, that is the essential sense that you must convey. You should extend it to everything—not just to anniversaries such as the 50th anniversary of some famous event but to all the experiences of daily life. For schoolchildren daily life becomes alive if you stimulate the historical sense and it can be linked to the past. The greatest of all historians, Edward Gibbon, observed that his period in the Hampshire Grenadiers was not irrelevant to the historian of the Roman legions and the decline of the empire.
History gives children a sense of identity—of where they belong and who they are. Other countries are aware of this. In my wife’s country, France, people would be astonished that history is not a compulsory part of our curriculum, as it is so powerfully there. History also gives a sense of a many-sided identity. People in this country have many identities. I have spent much of my career writing the history of Wales and the history of Britain and the north Atlantic side by side. It is interesting to see a different sense of relevance. For example, the Blue Books controversy of 1847, which is probably unknown to most of my audience and never mentioned in books on British history, is perhaps the most important event in 19th and 20th century Welsh history in stimulating a sense of nationality.
One must look at and reassess identity, not only because new research is being done and new facts released, but because you are writing within a society that is itself changing. Therefore, the questions to do with the past that you are interested in are constantly changing. The noble Baroness who preceded me spoke very interestingly on multiculturalism and cultural identity. That is clearly an area where questions that are different from traditional themes have been posed. A few years ago there was an interesting series of commemorations to do with the ending of the slave trade in 1807. How refreshing it was to see that an awareness of the multicultural society led to understanding that it was not simply the work of a few benevolent white middle-class Englishmen. It was in fact a dynamic process in which black men and women also participated, which was as much a part of the great process of liberation as what was done in England.
History is the basis of a civilised society. A famous historian, JR Seeley said that it was “past politics”. It is much more than that. It is capacious and contains multitudes. It is a mosaic of changing ideas, cultures and social formations. This should be reflected—I hope it is—in the way that history is taught in schools. I hope schools are not afraid of being conceptual and looking at the history of ideas. If we look at and celebrate Magna Carta in three years’ time, I hope we do not approach it simply from the bad King John—or even the good King John—point of view, but from the ideas of human rights and the discussion of human rights down the centuries. Yesterday I took part in a debate on the terrorism prevention Bill. A brisk course in human rights would be instructive for the Front Benches on both sides of your Lordships’ House.
Finally, history appeals to the most powerful of instincts: memory. The French are very aware of memory, not just the individual memory but the public memory—what the famous historian Pierre Nora called lieux de mémoire, or the sites of memories that have colonised and infiltrated the present. I hope history in schools can capture memory in its widest sense.
I began with a fellow countryman, Aneurin Bevan. I finish with another, a great friend of mine, who I think taught my noble friend Lady Andrews. If the House will indulge me, Professor Gwyn Alfred Williams observed, “Beth yw hanes ond cof cendl?”. What is history but the memory of a nation? How right he was.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Luke for securing this debate as I have always maintained that in order to shape our future we must look into our past. The lessons of history are a valuable road map of how events and changes in society have affected the world we live in today. It is often said that we can learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes twice. The only problem I have with this is that many leaders and Governments around the world fail to take an even cursory look at a history book before plunging their countries and populations into catastrophic wars and devastating economic events.
Recent history is frequently airbrushed and adjusted to suit political and ideological ends. I find this deeply worrying because some of today’s history books do not tell the full catalogue of events. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, I am personally concerned with the documentation of black history and that which applies to the diverse nature of Britain and the reasons why we have become such a rich multicultural society. The recent BBC2 television series “Mixed Race Britain” is, I believe, a landmark piece of television. It has made me aware of part of our history that I never knew had taken place. The programme is brilliantly researched and brilliantly documented. It reminds us of some of the most horrific episodes of racism in our recent history. It tells of Chinese fathers and husbands torn from the bosoms of their English wives and children in dawn raids and deported for no good reason, and of curfews forbidding black people to be out after dark. Yes, this all happened here in Britain less than a lifetime ago.
I have always gone to great lengths to explain to anyone who will listen that immigration to this country did not start with the Windrush, as many people seem to believe, and as the media continue constantly to reinforce. In 17th-century paintings by Hogarth we see the diverse nature of London, and yet it is rarely reflected in our history books that there has been diversity here since Roman times.
In 1987, October was established as Black History Month here in Britain to celebrate and acknowledge the contribution of black people, and to educate and inform society about the important part that black people have played in history. To celebrate, over the past few weeks I have been touring schools across the country, speaking to children in both urban and rural areas about the experiences of those who came to the UK from the British Empire. I make them aware that there were thousands of people from Africa, India, China and the Caribbean here in Britain long before the 1950s. I explain how in Nelson's fleet many black sailors manned the ships; how in Devon there are graveyards with African names carved on the tombstones; how millions of people from Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Asia fought for Britain in the First and Second World Wars, the Boer War, and the Crimean War, in which not only Florence Nightingale but Jamaican-born Mary Seacole nursed British soldiers. The children I speak to absorb this information like sponges. It is a delight to see their minds opening up to history.
I always find it amazing that so many films and television programmes fail to show the involvement of any of these groups of people when portraying these historic moments. Time and time again, with very few exceptions, films depicting the Elizabethan or Victorian eras fail to show people of colour as part of history. Even the story of the abolition of slavery frequently assigns the success of the campaign to William Wilberforce and his associates, often airbrushing out the black abolitionists who campaigned alongside them, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, highlighted just now. I find it sad, disheartening and frustrating that writers, researchers and directors fail to research past events correctly and truthfully and are therefore in effect changing history. That is why the teaching of accurate recent history in schools is so vital. If our young people grow up without learning and understanding history then we are making a terrible mistake, because the social make-up of our society is shaped by recent history. What vital lessons will be missed by our future leaders if they are not taught recent history in the classroom, history which is affecting their lives?
Some of this history may be unpleasant. It may make us feel ashamed or guilty. But it must never be brushed under the carpet. Imagine if we allowed significant occurrences, violent conflicts, world-changing political events, and the most evil and shocking atrocities of mankind's past, to be forgotten or erased from our history: the African Holocaust where millions of Africans died in enslavement, stripped of their religion, language and culture; the Jewish Holocaust of Hitler’s Third Reich; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the assassinations of Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy; the Vietnam War; and most recently, the horrific events of 9/11, the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war. These episodes must never be forgotten.
I produced a television series recently called “Statues and Monuments”. While we were filming a statue in central London a woman came up and said, “Why are you filming the statue of that man? He was a monster. What he did was evil. It should be torn down”. I replied, “No. We have to remember what he represents, so that it can never happen again”. We must never burn our history books. Our young people must be taught our past, so they will never make those same mistakes again.
History is one of the most important subjects in the curriculum and it must continue to be taught in the hope of securing a more peaceful future. If some of our leaders over the past 50 years had spent more time studying history, how different things might be. The world might not be in the wounded state it is today.
I love history and I loved studying history at school. I took a delight in wallowing in it because it gave me the opportunity to delve into the past with an inquisitive mind and to broaden my knowledge of the world. It inspired me to try to make a difference to our society. That love for history still exists today. I believe we must encourage all children and reach out and hand them the opportunity to study history. We must not deprive them of the rich lessons of the past. I ask the Minister to tell us how the Government will ensure that the teaching of history, including black history, remains a core subject for children of all cultures and all backgrounds throughout their time at school, to enable them to leave this world a better place than they found it.
My Lords, I, along with other noble Lords, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for securing a debate on this important subject. I have to declare an interest, or perhaps more accurately a passion, as a practising professional historian, and acknowledge that I am the secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History. Perhaps I may say something briefly about that. One of the greatest pleasures of that role was the fact that earlier this year, the all-party group decided to make an award to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, who spoke earlier in the debate, and Professor Eric Hobsbawm, acknowledging the tremendous contribution they have made to the study of history in this country.
I want briefly to draw attention to the fact that it is often said that we are a parochial people. Actually, one of the most striking things about this country is the way in which, more than any other country in the world, we produce major historians of other people’s countries. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is a striking example of this. It is an indication of the fact that the accusation of parochialism in that respect is entirely false.
However, today I want to make the case for more teaching of British history in our schools, and I want to make it with some care. I accept in part the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, earlier in the debate that the school timetable is inevitably limited and other subjects have to be accommodated, and I suspect that it will be a struggle to find more time for history. But the content of what is being taught in our schools at the moment is a real issue. I also want to make clear the spirit in which I approach the issue of the teaching of British history in our schools. A diary entry for 13 September 1975 in John Rae’s memoir—he was the headmaster of Westminster School and one of our progressive public school headmasters—goes as follows:
“I am disturbed to read a series of articles in the Times Educational Supplement arguing that as Britain is now multicultural, schools should no longer pass on a monocultural tradition. What nonsense. If the history and literature of this country were watered down to suit ethnic minorities, the United Kingdom would be little more than a geographic expression”.
It would be easy for me to say in the aftermath of the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Benjamin, that that is a very defensive and negative reaction. In fact, when I talk about the importance of teaching more British history in our schools, I want to make it clear that I do so entirely in the spirit of the two speeches we have just heard. But it is important to remember that, as his diary reveals, John Rae was an SDP voter at the time and saw himself as a progressive, as well as to recall the important changes that have occurred in our thinking about modern British history since then. It is also important to note that there can be no question of having a modern British history that does not acknowledge the multicultural realities of our society.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the University of Cambridge to give the first lecture on modern British history at a graduate seminar. I talked afterwards to dons and fellows of colleges, one of whom was a senior historian not born in this country, but taught and raised in a major European country. He has worked in Cambridge for the last few years. From his vantage point as a European, that historian expressed concerns about the way in which our undergraduates are now equipped as they arrive at university, even great universities such as Cambridge and Oxford:
“There is no notion of the wider meaning of Britishness—Scotland, Wales and Ireland besides England—let alone the Anglo world of the Empire. This is manufacturing parochialism and it is altering the collective memory of where this country comes from”.
The truth is that we have ended up manufacturing a certain form of parochialism, but the students all know about Hitler and world wars. I think that this is a real problem which we have to face up to. It is important to understand that if we want to teach people the virtues of tolerance as against intolerance, there are plenty of examples of this from our own British political history. If we want to teach people the importance of the equality of citizenship in our country, the struggle for Catholic emancipation is in its way as significant as the struggle for civil rights in the United States. It is important that people learn the lessons as they occurred in our own society.
It is also very important that the current debate does not become politicised. When we talk about the need for more British history, there is a danger that it becomes a kind of parody argument in which apparently those of us who are concerned about the subject want to hear more about kings and queens, make people learn more dates and so on. That is presented against the exciting and interesting things to be learnt by studying Hitler. This is truly a parody. In fact, within the historical profession at the moment there is a burgeoning consensus around the issue. It is important to avoid a false right/left debate on the subject. There are Conservatives—the noble Lord, Lord Luke, remarked on the failure to understand who Churchill was in our history—who are concerned about the knowledge of British history among our young people, but it is also the case that Tristram Hunt, probably the most distinguished historian in the new Labour intake in the other place and the great biographer of Engels, is on the record as saying that we now need more British history in our schools.
It is absolutely vital that we do not have a sterile right/left debate, one that has already started to a degree in the London Review of Books. There is actually a burgeoning consensus among historians, and it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that if there is a patriotic tradition in this country, it is of the left as well as of the right, and of the centre. We cannot have more history about Nelson and Wellington without Peterloo and the Tolpuddle martyrs. I heartily endorse everything that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, about conflict and consensus. There is no need to get involved in a false argument. I conclude by asking a question. Is there a case for a national council of historians to advise on these matters? One of the remarkable things about the British historical profession is that it is very good and has a tremendous range of scholars working within it. Probably what happens on the whole in our schools does not fully reflect the actual quality of work that goes on among British historians and their commitment to knowledge of the past. There is the possibility to avoid sterile polemics and to proceed on the basis of understanding and agreement. I hope it is something that the Government might give just a little thought to.
My Lords, I express gratitude to my noble friend Lord Luke for initiating this debate, and I declare an interest as a graduate in medieval history. I was going to tell the same sad tale told by my noble friend Lord Luke concerning the seven year-old boy on the Tube. I would add only this. Only this morning I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who thought that the boy who did not know what the Navy was, was in fact aged nine, which makes it somewhat more shocking. It was suggested during the ensuing lively conversation on the Tube that the noble Lord should continue his journey in order to enlighten further passengers on naval history. He is not in his place, so I can only assume that he remains on the Circle Line.
That is an extreme example of the decline in the importance and value of teaching history in schools. The publication in 2007 of the Ofsted report entitled History in the Balance and subsequently History For All, published in 2011, focus on the problems. First, there are the positive signs. The 2011 report shows that history teaching in 63 out of 83 primary schools and 59 out of 83 secondary schools surveyed was outstanding. It was also noted that since the 2007 report, greater use of ICT among pupils engendered more interest and facilitated more self-learning in history. History as an optional course is better taught at key stage 4 and in the sixth form, with the numbers of students increasing. This is reflected in the increase in demand for history courses at UK universities.
However, there remain some fundamental underlying problems. At primary school stage, the 2007 report found that key stage 2 pupils made slow progress in history, a subject too often neglected in favour of literacy and numeracy. There was no discernible improvement highlighted in the 2011 report. Furthermore, teachers were found to lack confidence in teaching history, based on a lack of specific subject knowledge. In some primary and secondary schools, teaching fell short in providing a clear chronology of events, a timeline linking major events through the millennia to provide a perspective.
Schools remain too parochial in focusing on English history to the detriment of the history of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and indeed the rest of the world. Episodic teaching is introduced too early in the curriculum. With some trepidation, my views differ from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend, Lord Cormack, in that I believe it is important to have a great depth of knowledge of the history of the great continents in addition to that of the UK. For example, how can we understand the relative decline of the USA if we do not understand the recent rise in influence of China and India?
The major problems remain at key stage 3. In the maintained sector, only 30 per cent of pupils study history after the age of 14, with even fewer after the age of 16, as the subject becomes optional in marked contrast to many European countries. History is marginalised—and too early—in favour of vocational subjects. The 2011 report pointed out that major disruptive curriculum changes at key stage 3 impacted negatively on 14 out of 58 secondary schools surveyed. In some schools at A-level there is an overdependence on the set texts, which stifles independent research, leaving pupils ill prepared for higher education where research and analytical skills are required.
A crucial question is: how important is the teaching of history in schools in the context of the demand to teach key subjects such as maths and English in addition to the provision of some vocational training? Its importance cannot be overestimated. The historian Anthony Beevor has stated:
“Without an understanding of history we are politically, culturally and socially impoverished”.
His own historical masterpiece entitled D-Day is an outstanding example of a readable tale focusing on the lead up to D-Day and its aftermath written from the Axis and Allied perspective. It is well researched, written wholly objectively and provides a moving human perspective on the characters of the leaders and the decisions made at the time.
History teaching stands proud in providing the foundation skills for a range of related university courses, including sociology, politics, international relations and economics. Vocationally, it also provides a basis for studying law, for entry to the Civil Service and the private sector. History teaches us how to research, analyse and assimilate information and draw our own conclusions from decisions made in the past. These skills are invaluable for careers where writing reports or making presentations is essential.
History is interesting and there is a need to bring it alive for pupils in schools. Edmund Burke wrote:
“History consists for the greater part of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal and all the train of disorderly appetite”.
On this basis, if there were a Richter scale for excitement, history should surely be ranked 10, well above reality TV programmes or the PlayStation.
It is how history is taught that is so important. There is a need for improved teacher training in this respect and better subject-specific training. More creativity is also required in schools for relating history teaching to a link with the local community, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has pointed out. Last week in this House during a Question on war memorial gardens, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, wisely suggested that schools adopt a local war memorial to allow pupils to learn and understand its local importance.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister two questions. First, what plans are in place for substantially improving the training of teachers in history? Secondly, are there plans for increasing the age threshold for the compulsory teaching of history? Arnold Toynbee famously stated that history is,
“just one damned thing after another”.
This is a truism, but it masks the positive fact that the study of history builds up an invaluable mental library to help us lead our own lives better. We must start at least by ensuring that all nine year-old boys know what the Navy is.
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for securing this important debate, which has brought forward a range of stimulating and informative contributions from which we all benefit—the Minister in particular, I hope. I have some remarks to address to him specifically.
Let me first of all declare an interest—an interest in history. I cannot declare any other; it is more than a decade since I participated in an education debate due to other obligations in government, and it is almost 50 years since I taught history in higher education. It seems a very long time ago. What I delight in today is the variety of contributions. There are some that I have warmed to very strongly and some that I have reservations about which I will make clear in a moment.
What has come through so strongly is the importance of history. The Minister ought to appreciate that this debate about history in schools and proposals for the future is of the greatest significance. We have certainly put to rest Henry Ford’s statement that “history is bunk”. Henry Ford said that in a particular context to emphasise the new technology in the age of the motor car, but in Detroit he leaves behind a museum of history which is almost unparalleled elsewhere in its range of exhibits, and is proof positive of the value of bringing to the American people—and people from the rest of the world who have had the privilege of going there—a real interest in the development of our technological and industrial history, so even Henry did not really think that history was bunk.
I warm rather more to the fact that history is the memory of our civilisations, of our country and of mankind. Without an understanding of the past, how can we make intelligible the nature of the world in which we live? History is also partial, selective, subjective and determined by interpretation. That is not to say that good historians—certainly not the historians who grace this debate today—are in any way shape or form disrespectful of facts. Facts are sacred, but often the problem for historians is agreement about the facts, and in particular the interpretation to be put upon them. It is important that we recognise that history is evidence-based and the sacredness of the facts, but also that all who study history need not just a narrative but an appreciation of the way in which the historian works. It will not do to think that we can hand down easy truths in areas where inevitably history is about disputation, uncertainty and interpretation. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is able to take a party of schoolchildren through the building and glory in the depiction of the past events which it identifies. It is also why I can take a party of schoolchildren and identify my criticisms of some of the choices made. Why certain figures are in the Royal Gallery and others are not is a judgment reflective of the 19th century when this Palace was created. The depiction of history through our various Lobbies is a distinct interpretive act. I am not against it; I love this place. I am not against anything which helps to communicate to people the sense of our history. However, I am also at pains to ensure that people recognise that there is more than one dimension to the island’s story as portrayed in this building.
That is why my concern in this debate is that the Government purport to be reaching judgments with regard to teaching in schools. A mightily important obligation is on the Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers when they reach these judgments. We should have some anxiety. After all, we do not have a Secretary of State who hides his light under a bushel when it comes to a commitment to a set of values. We all know the ideological stance which he has taken with regard, for example, to Atlantic Bridge. We also know the extent to which he is determined to be proactive. I ask merely this of the Minister: will he ensure that the level and range of advice that the Secretary of State obtains on this most important of scholastic areas is broader than it looks to be at present? Like everyone else in this House, I have delighted in the work of Simon Schama. I enjoyed hugely his narrative account of the French Revolution. For those of us who had weltered under highly tendentious and challenging interpretations of the revolution in which, on the whole, narrative development was limited and the identification of a particular perspective was more important, Simon Schama’s book came like a breath of fresh air and renewed for many a great interest in the revolution. However, it is a narrative. It is an account which is highly challenged by other historians. That is why, although I have nothing but respect for Simon Schama as a historian, if it is suggested that he is the historian primarily advising the Secretary of State, this House should express anxiety.
This has been a debate which ought to have warmed the hearts of all of us who are concerned about history in all the great dimensions that have been put forward from such authoritative sources, but it is also a debate which is topical and relevant—that is why the noble Lord, Lord Luke, should be congratulated on raising it. It means that the Government must be fully charged of the fact that history cannot just be the concept of an easy, consensual narrative of the island’s story. History is far more complex and challenging than that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, identified in her contribution, and we ought to respect that in any judgments that we reach.
My Lords, as I come at the end of the Back-Bench contributions to this debate, much of what I might have said has already been said. Nevertheless, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for initiating the debate. From the speeches that we have heard, it seems that there is little consensus in this House except on two things: first, that history is very important; and, secondly, that it is in financial crisis—it is a problem about provision both in schools and in universities.
In schools, as many noble Lords have said, there is a need to impart a sense of continuity and sequence of the past. However, as my noble friend Lord Addington said, history is now so vast that it would take almost a lifetime—you would certainly have to enrol in the University of the Third Age—to complete an in-depth study from the early times to the present.
We must get away from the notion that history had a golden past. My own history education lacked any sense of continuity or sequence. I learnt about the Romans and the Vikings, then jumped to the Tudors and the Stuarts. Finally, at A-level, I studied 19th and 20th-century European and British—by which I mean essentially English—history. As a result, I knew very little about the medieval period and the 18th century, and virtually nothing about the histories of Ireland, Scotland and Wales or the United States. Never once in those far-off days when we took O-level and A-level in history were we required to examine original sources. History education has come a long way in recent years by requiring pupils at quite a young age and subsequently to learn how to use original sources. In my case, the fragmented and disjointed knowledge of history that I acquired was not at all unique. Others have mentioned that they had similar experiences.
The school curriculum, even if it cannot cover the whole course of history, should, as my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, said, take sufficiently long a period so that one can convey a sense of sequence and development. That requires that history should be accorded a secure place in the syllabus at both primary and secondary levels. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, has clearly recognised this.
The curriculum should not be chauvinistic or xenophobic, although I have to say—here I echo the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Davies—that Mr Gove’s approach seems to hint at this. It should not concentrate just on monarchy, the military and empire. Rather, as many noble Lords have said, it should give an appreciation of other aspects. In a devolved kingdom, particularly, we should these days have a sense of the history of Ireland, Scotland and Wales if we are to maintain some sense of a United Kingdom. There have been many criticisms that recent and contemporary history predominates and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, students come up to university knowing about Hitler but have not gone much further than that. In my experience when I was in Northern Ireland, my daughter took a GCSE in history and was compelled to take a paper in the history of Ireland. That stopped quite abruptly at 1919, for obvious reasons, so it is not always contemporary. In certain circumstances, you find that you are not allowed to look at more contemporary features.
As my noble friend Lady Benjamin and others have said, there must be a large focus on the UK’s position in the world. As was said earlier, if the habit of continuous military adventurism persists there is a strong case for giving a hefty dose of the history of the Middle East. Perhaps Afghanistan would make a good special paper at A-level and any intending candidates for cadetships at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst should be required to take that as a pre-requisite for application.
At university level, history is almost in extremis. As the debate in your Lordships’ House last week on the condition of the English universities illustrated, in speech after speech, the arts and humanities—of which history is a main constituent—were shown to be in dire straits. It is significant that in the Guardian today the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, an eminent medical scientist, very eloquently comes out defending the arts, social sciences and the humanities as being equally vital alongside more vocational subjects and disciplines.
Not only is the teaching of history at risk but, as others have remarked, the quality of historical research is being jeopardised. It is research that nurtures university teaching which, in turn, informs and keeps fresh the teaching in schools. The future history teachers in our country are being short-changed, and will be increasingly so, by the parsimony of university funding. In every sense, history will not take kindly to the financial treatment currently being meted out to it. Along with others, I ask the Minister whether he is able to offer any crumbs of comfort that will convincingly provide grounds for a degree of optimism in this regard.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for initiating this debate. He has raised some challenging questions about the future of history teaching and the need, which he rightly identified, to narrow the knowledge gap between rich and poor so that all children can excel. We have also, thankfully, had a measured and extremely well informed debate today. I did not realise that there were quite so many history teachers in your Lordships’ Chamber but I have certainly found the debate enlightening. I have also very much welcomed the tone in which the debate has taken place. All too often when these subjects are debated they can dissolve into myth and political discourse.
We have also had some passionate contributions about the wider role of history in establishing truth and fact. I particularly commend the exposition from my noble friends Lady Andrews and Lady Bakewell on the wider benefits of a good grounding in history. I also look forward to hearing the response of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, who I understand is also an expert on this subject. I am sure that he will also give a thoughtful and reflective analysis of the problems which we are now confronting.
We all understand the importance of history in helping us to understand progress, the development of our society and our place in the world today. We also recognise the academic and personal skills that flow from learning to analyse and question, and to differentiate between historical fact and fiction. As my noble friend Lord Morgan rightly pointed out, it gives a good intellectual training.
As several noble Lords pointed out and argued persuasively, it also gives us a sense of identity and belonging and creates a memory of a nation. It also sometimes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, pointed out, scandalously writes some of our citizens out of history, and that cannot be tolerated. As politicians we are keenly aware that we need to learn from history and that the two disciplines are closely intertwined. We are also aware that even in the hands of the most careful practitioner history can be subjective and distorted. This is why individual politicians should be wary of interfering in the shape of the syllabus. I am very pleased that Michael Gove enjoyed studying history at school. He obviously enjoyed a particular style of teaching, and I have no doubt that it works well for some people, but this does not justify him recreating his own teaching experience in every school in the country. Surely he should, instead, be drawing upon the best professional advice as to how children learn effectively and the best academic experience of history teachers in the classroom. It may well be that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, of a national advisory body of historians could provide focus for this.
Several noble Lords have quoted Simon Schama, who is one of the advisers brought in to shape the new syllabus. I understand that he will be working with Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson, notable academics in their own right. They have been very vocal in their criticisms of the current teaching of history, so at least that has helped to provoke a debate. However, as my noble friend Lord Davies argued, they have a particular ideological focus, which is raising some concerns among teachers and parents. Particular alarm bells rang for me when I read that Niall Ferguson had created a war games video to teach young people about the Second World War. He described how his two young sons had enjoyed playing it, but that his daughter had shown no interest in playing war games. That is no surprise. I found myself thinking that Michael Gove might have been better advised to ask some women to join his team of advisers. They might have had a better idea of the sorts of issues which would inspire the imagination of young women in learning history.
Nevertheless, on some things the advisers are right. We all are concerned about the fall in take-up of history GCSE. While history remains a statutory part of the curriculum up to the age of 14, the numbers taking the subject beyond this have been reducing, as we have heard, with only 30 per cent of students taking the subject at GCSE in maintained schools. As both Ofsted and the Historical Association have identified, there are a number of reasons for this. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly pointed out, there is a lack of specialist teaching in schools, leaving many young people with little or no teaching from history graduates trained to teach the subject. Of course, this problem becomes self-perpetuating as the lower numbers taking the subject to A-level and beyond affect the future supply of qualified teachers.
Secondly, there has been a reduction in the time allocated to the subject as the curriculum is squeezed with other priorities or history is combined into a more general humanities course in which the specifics of the discipline can be lost. Thirdly, there are restrictions placed on the subjects that some young people are able to study at GCSE, with history not being an option, or only available if other humanities are dropped. Finally, there are concerns about the inconsistency of exam boards regarding marking, course materials and the criteria for assessment, which puts some students off. So there are undoubtedly a number of structural problems with the curriculum offer which militate against a large uptake of history at GCSE. Incidentally, I am not sure that these problems will be solved by the introduction of the English baccalaureate, which specifies that only one humanities subject should be part of the award.
This issue of the time available to teach particular subjects is more fundamental than might at first appear. It may be that the previous Government allowed the curriculum to become too crowded, but there is always pressure, as we have heard, to add new and justifiable subjects to the list. Conversely, it is rare for anybody to make a case for a subject to be dropped from the curriculum; and just as that applies to the curriculum as a whole, it also applies with individual subjects. I have listened carefully today to the many persuasive contributions on what should be included in the history syllabus, and it would be easy to agree with everyone. Issues raised have included the significance of the French Revolution, the origins of the slave trade, our links with Afghanistan, the history of our relations with the Middle East; the need to understand people’s history, social history, local history, the history of the four UK nations, the history of English literature and art; the development of science and technology and the history of multiculturalism, to touch on just a few. I endorse all of those. They all have a legitimate place in the curriculum. However, we also need to be realistic about what can be achieved in, say, two hours a week up to year nine and maybe three hours a week at GCSE over a 38-week academic year. It is simply not possible to have both the breadth and the depth that we might all desire.
This dichotomy has led to one of the central failings in the teaching of history, which is identified by Ofsted and on which we can probably all agree. It reported that pupils were being let down by a lack of chronological understanding of the subject. In particular, it reported that pupils at primary schools,
“knew about particular events, characters and periods but did not have an overview. Their chronological understanding was often underdeveloped and so they found it difficult to link developments together”.
I very much support the idea that a stronger strand of chronology should underpin the history syllabus, but this is very different from the Secretary of State’s apparent mission to return to learning dates by rote. At a time when our challenge is to excite pupils and capture their imagination about the past, there would be nothing more dull and uninspiring than to force feed them with dates of wars and of births and deaths of kings and queens.
It is an accepted fact among most educationalists that individual children have different techniques for learning and remembering. The real skill of a classroom teacher is to teach in such a way that every child can get the maximum benefit from the lesson. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out, the current history syllabus meets many of the concerns that have been raised today. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, disagreed, but this matter can easily be resolved by looking at the facts. The Ofsted report was much more positive about the current history provision than we have been led to believe by some commentators. It is an area in which myths have been flourishing. Just as it is not possible to avoid being deported by owning a cat, it is equally not true that Henry VIII and Hitler are the only individuals studied in the syllabus. In fact, as we have heard, the syllabus is littered with leaders, explorers, inventors and dissenters. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, rightly pointed out, on any named subject at any time, we always believe that it was taught better in the past and are nostalgic for the way that we were taught it at school.
Perhaps many of the noble Lord’s colleagues remain so. However, we need to scrutinise objectively what is happening in the classroom. In its report earlier this year, History for All, Ofsted praised the teaching at key stage 2, describing pupils as having a,
“detailed knowledge derived from well-taught studies of individual topics”;
while at secondary level it described how,
“effective teaching by well-qualified and highly competent teachers enabled the majority of students to develop knowledge and understanding in depth”.
It went on to identify that students displayed,
“a healthy respect for historical evidence”,
and had the skills to apply critical judgment to support their analysis. Throughout the Ofsted report the skills of the specialist history teachers who knew their subjects well and were able to inspire their pupils were a common theme. Surely we should value and celebrate the contribution of these teachers rather than alarm them with talk of further upheaval.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister agrees with me that there is a need, first, to tackle the structural reasons why history teaching is in decline and is fighting for space in the school week. Secondly, we need to look again at how the syllabus can be adjusted to allow the chronology and sweep of history to be better understood. Thirdly, we need to engage with history teachers, value what they achieve and listen to their ideas for reform. Politicians should refrain from meddling in an educational agenda fraught with ideological divides, and should perhaps also recruit some women to advise on the really significant events in history and how they might be taught. Then we might inspire a new generation of young people to study history, develop the skills of analysis and apply the lessons learnt so that they can better interpret their lives today.
My Lords, it is with more than my usual trepidation that I rise to speak because there have been times this afternoon when I felt as though 30 years had rolled back and I had been at an undergraduate tutorial with an overdue essay. However, this debate has been extremely good and thought-provoking, and there has been a large amount of agreement on a lot of the key themes. Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Luke for securing the debate, getting it off to such a good start and setting out the issues for us so clearly.
Everyone else seems to have been declaring an interest, so I had better do so. I must correct the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—I am not an expert, but as a boy I was hooked by RJ Unstead’s Story of Britain, with those wonderful illustrations by Victor Ambrus. I still have my copy at home and I should be happy to share it with anyone who has not read it. I also remember as a boy being fascinated by an encyclopaedia’s picture of French aristocrats being taken off in a tumbrel, and one of Constantine XI fighting heroically on the walls of Constantinople. I suspect that it was an early sign of a lifelong commitment to lost causes, with which I persist to this day.
I started to read history at university but I am afraid I did not complete it because I did not have the sticking power—it was a PhD on Russian history with Norman Stone. However, it was in the 1990s that a stint at Downing Street opened my eyes to medieval history because it dawned on me that I was effectively working in a medieval court. For the first time, I realised why the role of Keeper of the Stool was such an important job because, as political secretary, I spent a lot of my time going round clearing up after powerful people.
I therefore share the views expressed by all noble Lords about the importance of history, which was set out so powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, and from another but equally important perspective by my noble friends Lady Benjamin and Lady Berridge. I think that there is agreement that history helps us to understand our common past, our shared values and our sense of national identity—a point made by my noble friend Lord Cormack, but underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. She correctly said that history teaching is more important than ever as our society becomes more varied. Understanding history helps us to make sense of the present, as has been argued by a number of noble Lords. It develops analytical skills and helps us to understand cause and effect—one of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, underlined. History helps give us the ability to argue and enables us all to make connections. Everyone here is agreed on the importance of history as a subject.
We heard a number of examples of some of the things that people do not know about history. We heard about Churchill. I saw another survey that suggested that nearly half the young people aged between 18 and 24 did not know that Nelson commanded the fleet at Trafalgar and led it to victory. Nearly half did not know that the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall. That links to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, about the importance of British history. He made an extremely important point about the opportunity we have to avoid a false left/right divide on this. For most of the time in this debate we have managed to avoid that. I accept that it is impossible to dissociate history and the study of it from a political perspective. However, we have been discussing the chronology and the sequencing of history—some of the great events. Noble Lords may think that I am a mad optimist but it is possible to separate some of the facts of our history and of world history. My noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton made the important point that we increasingly need our children to have an awareness of world history. However, it is possible to separate an understanding of fact from interpretation. Interpretation is something that comes increasingly with age and knowledge, but there is a factual basis that we should be able to work hard to identify.
In terms of current take-up we know that, alongside geography and modern foreign languages, the number of pupils taking history has been falling. It is down from 39 per cent doing GCSE in 1995, to 30 to 31 per cent last year. The proportion taking A-level has been static and the number of students studying history at university has risen, but that rise is slower than the average increase in university enrolments generally. We also know that while just over 30 per cent of children in maintained schools took a history GCSE in 2010, nearly half of children in independent schools did so. That relates to a point well made by a number of noble Lords about the importance of making sure that all our children have a chance to study history, and that those from more disadvantaged backgrounds do not miss out on the opportunity to do so.
My noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie told us about the Ofsted report in 2010. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, also referred to it and was absolutely right to say that the report found much to commend in the teaching of history at both primary and secondary level and in the work that our teachers are doing. It found many examples of extremely good practice. I very much associate myself with that point of view.
The Ofsted report also said—and this point has been recognised and accepted on all sides of the House—that at primary level,
“some pupils found it difficult to place the historical episodes they had studied within any coherent, long-term narrative… Their chronological understanding was often underdeveloped and so they found it difficult to link developments together”.
They also commented that,
“the curriculum structure for primary schools was itself episodic”.
That links to some of the points made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. The report recommended that pupils should study overview as well as in-depth topics. That relates to a point about bore-holes and breadth, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. Ofsted also thought, again relating to the important point raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, that primary school teachers needed more subject-specific continuous professional development opportunities and that all students in secondary schools should benefit from a significant amount of history until at least 14.
I felt there was broadly a shared analysis of what we think the main issues confronting us are. There are concerns about the bitty nature of the curriculum and a lack of sweep and chronological development, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan; about the support available to teachers to enable them to teach history well and more broadly; and about the time available in the timetable for teaching history, particularly at key stage 3. There is also some concern about the numbers of children who want to study history at GCSE level.
I will try to set out what the Government are doing in three broad areas: first, the curriculum; secondly, encouraging the take-up of history; and thirdly, support for teachers and initial teacher training. So far as the curriculum is concerned, we had an extremely good debate which flushed out some of the difficulties. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about curriculum wars and the history of that; my noble friend Lord Addington talked about fashions. Both those points are well made. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, agrees with our argument that, as the national curriculum developed, it has covered more subjects, prescribed more outcomes and taken up more school time than originally intended.
Overall, our intention through the curriculum review is to slim the curriculum down; to free up time in the school day; and to free teachers to use their judgment to design curricula that best meet needs of their pupils. We want the new national curriculum to be based on a body of essential knowledge that children should be expected to acquire in key subjects during their school career, to cover for all children their cultural and scientific inheritance—an important point was made about the importance of science and technology—to enhance their understanding of the world around them, and to expose them, if we can, to the best of what has been thought and written.
The review is being conducted in two phases. In the first phase, we are designing new programmes of study for those subjects—English, maths, science and PE—which we have already confirmed will continue to be a part of the national curriculum at all four key stages. We are also considering which of the other subjects that currently form the national curriculum, including history, should be part of the national curriculum in future and at which key stages. The second phase of the review, which will start in early 2012, will produce programmes of study for those other subjects which remain within the national curriculum. The review will also advise on whether non-statutory programmes of study should be published for any subjects that are not to be included in the new national curriculum.
The review began with a public call for evidence that invited views from all interested parties on what a new curriculum should look like. I understand that the call for evidence closed on 14 April; the results will be published in due course. There will be further widescale public consultation before any final decision is made. I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that it is important that there should be widespread discussion representing a range of views.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, specifically asked whether the EBacc is having any effect on encouraging the take-up of history. The Government think that a child's education is diminished without a sound understanding of history. We know that history, alongside some other subjects, has been in decline for a number of years. The Government believe that there are some academic subjects, the core subjects in the English baccalaureate—English, maths, the sciences, languages and humanity—in which too few pupils are achieving, or have even had the opportunity to study. As my noble friend Lord Luke pointed out at the beginning of the debate, the situation is worse for pupils on free school meals. The disparity between the percentage of those on free school meals who are taking the EBacc subjects—which the Russell Group of universities states are those that best equip children to take degrees in its universities—and others is very large. Only 4 per cent of children on free school meals achieved the EBacc subjects last year, whereas for children as a whole across the country, the figure was 16 per cent. We need to address that issue.
I know that all noble Lords believe that many more pupils have the potential to succeed in those subjects, and we feel that we should do everything that we can to help them have that opportunity. We know that pupils who have achieved the EBacc combination of subjects have proved more likely to go onto A-levels, have attempted a greater number of A-levels and have achieved better results. We are trying through the EBacc to allow parents and pupils to see for the first time how their school is performing against those key academic subjects. In doing so, we hope to encourage a greater number of schools to offer a broader set of academic subjects, which would include history, to more of their pupils.
The early indications are that the introduction of the EBacc is encouraging the take-up of history. Some research was carried out on behalf of the department by the National Centre for Social Research over the summer. That suggests that 39 per cent of pupils entering GCSEs in 2013 are expected to take history. If that turns out to be the case, that would be up by 8 per cent from this year and back to the level that it was that in 1995. Time will tell whether that turns out to be true, but I hope noble Lords who are keen, as we all are, to see more children carrying on with history up to the age of 16 will regard that as an encouraging sign.
That is linked with the important question about teacher supply and teacher training. The EBacc does have implications for teacher supply. If more children want to study history, we will need to have more history teachers. The modelling undertaken by the department to set future-year ITT places is taking that into account. I am told that there is currently healthy interest in training to become a history teacher. My noble friend Lady Walmsley rightly mentioned the importance of CPD, or continuing professional development. Our overall approach to that was laid out in our White Paper published in November 2010. In broad terms we are trying to improve the capacity for schools to take the lead for the training and development of teachers and to create more opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, which is what we have been doing this afternoon. Our approach is based on research that shows that teachers learn best through observing teaching and being observed and receiving feedback from other professionals. We are creating a new national network of teaching schools which will give outstanding schools the role of leading the training and professional development of teachers and head teachers so that all schools have better access to high-quality professional and leadership development. The first 100 teaching schools have already been established and we have a further 100 planned for April 2012. They will be the embodiment of our commitment to CPD and will run a range of programmes for schools, including in history, to help address some of these important issues.
Earlier this year we published an initial teacher training strategy which is out for discussion at the moment. That contains proposals for giving schools the opportunity to play a greater role in teacher training, the funding of ITT, toughening the entry criteria, and prioritising training most relevant to classroom practice. We are finalising proposals for initial teacher training in the light of responses we have received to that and we will publish a plan shortly. We believe overall, alongside work we are doing in looking at proposals for a single set of new standards for all qualified teachers, that these reforms, the network of teaching schools and a new set of teacher standards will improve the rigour and quality of teaching in all subjects, including history.
An interesting part of the debate was on issues around learning outside the classroom, enthusiasm and the importance of enthusiastic teachers, and accessibility. My noble friend Lady Berridge rightly talked about the importance of bringing outsiders in. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, talked about the kind of work that English Heritage and other organisations can do to enthuse and inspire children and bring history to life in a way that someone standing up in a classroom will not necessarily do. I do not think that helping children have a better sense of the chronology of the events in history needs to come from a dry as dust, learning by rote, going back to the 1950s approach to teaching. The development of the media and all kinds of new ways of learning that all of us, unfortunately, were not able to benefit from provide fantastic opportunities for children to become engaged in and get a love of history and be excited and inspired by it. Learning outside the classroom is extremely important and going to battlefields, visiting the Imperial War Museum and going to Dover Castle—which I would love to do one day if I am invited—are all ways that we can bring history to life. We think schools can work out how to do that but there is more the Government can do to make it easier for them to take pupils on trips by taking steps to reduce teachers’ fears of legal action for failures in the dreaded and sometimes mythical area of health and safety. We want teachers to be confident that they can take pupils to this kind of activity, and we will work with the Health and Safety Executive on that.
I remember reading a few years back pronouncements that history was dead. Today's debate shows that it is very much alive. We know that there are more history books being written and that there is more history on the television; we have heard about the interest people have in archaeology and in their own ancestry. As was said, history is full of ripping yarns. There is no doubting the passion and knowledge brought to us in today's debate. I do not share the knowledge of all noble Lords—for instance, that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton—but I hope that at least I share some of the passion expressed this afternoon. I will bring the debate to the attention of my honourable friend Mr Gibb, who is leading our curriculum review, and also to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, whose commitment to history, as some noble Lords have mentioned, is well known.
The Government take this seriously. There is much more work to do, but I hope that we may have started to turn the corner. The timing of the debate, as the Government consider the national curriculum review, is excellent. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Luke on it once again, and on providing us all with the opportunity for the thoughtful discussion that we had.
My Lords, this has been a most elevating afternoon. I very much enjoyed all the speeches and learnt a lot, which is always a good thing. The debate shows how important history is in the House. On a Thursday afternoon, the number of noble Lords who spoke was amazing, and I am extremely grateful to them. I will finish by saying that my noble friend Lady Benjamin summed up what I think about history when she said, “I love history”. I love history, too, and I am sure that is so for many noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.