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It’s official: Gove’s opinions are not based on facts

March 13, 2011

It is a myth that history teaching in state schools in England does not contain enough British history.

A report published by Ofsted rubbishes the very idea that Michael Gove is basing his drastic overhaul of history education on.

In October 2010, Michael Gove spoke emotively about the decline he feels state education experienced during Labour and was damning of every subject. He said of history teaching, “Children are growing up ignorant of one of the most inspiring stories I know – the history of our United Kingdom”.

Evocatively, he continued, “Our history has moments of pride, and shame, but unless we fully understand the struggles of the past we will not properly value the liberties of the present.

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 the Eighth 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. Well, this trashing of our past has to stop”.

His accusations were made in spite of the Labour making the teaching of history in all curriculums compulsory until school leaving age. A 2007 revision to the National Curriculum at Key Stage 3 reiterated the requirements that pupils were to be taught a substantial amount of British history.

"Do you know who I am?"

Today, Ofsted published a report which further questions Gove’s rationale for his scathing condemnations of British teaching.  Ofsted’s report, History for All, states, “The view that too little British history is taught in secondary schools in England is a myth. Pupils in the schools visited studied a considerable amount of British history and knew a great deal about the particular topics covered”. Ofsted also observes “the large majority of the time was spent on English history rather than wider British history”. This accusation can be leveled at Gove who, in spite of his Scottish roots, seems only able to refer to English politicians, writers and figures when championing the contents of his new curriculum.

The Ofsted report recommends improvement for the teaching of history but is drenched with praise for the schools it investigated saying:

“There was much that was good and outstanding in the history seen for this survey: achievement was good or outstanding in 63 of the 83 primary schools and 59 of the 83 secondary schools visited”.

“In the secondary schools visited, effective teaching by well-qualified and highly competent teachers enabled the majority of students to develop knowledge and understanding in depth. It also helped students to develop their ability to support, evaluate and challenge their own views and to challenge the views of others. Many students displayed a healthy respect for historical evidence, along with the skills to use it robustly and critically to support their explanations and judgements”.

“[…]it is a popular and inaccurate myth that students at GCSE and A level only study Hitler. The recent changes to the subject criteria for both GCSE and A level mean that students at both levels are required to study a range of topics including a substantial amount of British history”.

It is well worth reading publications like this to inform yourself about the state of any kind of provision in the public sector at the moment. I agree with Gove’s conclusion that state education must be improved but disagree with his diagnosis and remedies for the many problems we face.

This report is indicative of something that rings true for this government; their rationales for change are not based on facts, they are based on opinion. That means they are ideological. We need to give more of our time to unbiased reports like History for All. This government is forcing change motivated by myth. We can only fight this with the veracity of  sound debate.

Read more:

The regrettable path towards Gove’s aspirations

The answers aren’t easy but everyone has their hands up

Ofsted report ‘History for All’

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