Our history lessons are "worst in West": Failing curriculum needs overhaul, says academic

Our history lessons are 'worst in West': Failing curriculum needs overhaul, says academic

|

UPDATED:

00:30 GMT, 27 April 2012

History teaching in England is among the worst in the western world, a Cambridge University don has warned in a devastating report.

Youngsters are taught a ‘mis-cellany of disconnected fragments’ and examined on barely anything before 1870, he claimed, missing out on vast swathes of British, European and world history.

Professor Robert Tombs, a history fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge, said it was ‘difficult to name’ a European country that taught the subject so poorly.

Bad news: Professor Robert Tombs, a history fellow at St Johns College, Cambridge, said it was difficult to name a European country that taught the subject so poorly

Bad news: Professor Robert Tombs, a history fellow at St John's College, Cambridge, said it was 'difficult to name' a European country that taught the subject so poorly

History

In the report, released today, the
professor demanded an overhaul of the subject, and published an
alternative curriculum featuring 36 key events in British history that
all secondary school pupils should study.

Very
few current GCSE courses examine history before 1870, he said, with
more attention often paid to skills such as evaluating sources rather
than acquiring knowledge.

While coverage is broader at A-level, he said the late middle ages and most of the 18th century are hardly touched.

‘Over-specialisation on a few topics crowds out vast areas of history,’ he said. ‘Scant attention’ is paid to the British Empire, despite its far-reaching implications in global history.

/04/27/article-2135891-0DE37AA700000578-550_306x423.jpg” width=”306″ height=”423″ alt=”Education Secretary Michael Gove, pictured, has announced a radical shake-up of all subjects” class=”blkBorder” />

Blow: History teaching in England is among the worst in the western world, Cambridge University don Professor Robert Tombs has warned in a devastating report

Changes: Education Secretary Michael Gove, left, has announced a radical shake-up of all subjects and right, Professor Robert Tombs who has highlighted how teaching in England among the worst in the western world

Education Secretary Michael Gove has
announced a radical shake-up of all subjects. Proposals are being drawn
up for introduction in September 2014.

In his report, Professor Tombs said history education in schools had ‘little in common with real historical study’.

Pupils typically study a random array of topics including Tudor England, the native peoples of America, the Industrial Revolution in England and the Nazis.

Some study Hitler three times during their school career.

And rather than focusing on knowledge, examiners are more concerned with testing artificial historical ‘skills’ such as evaluating sources.

Pupils are also forced to study obscure topics in ‘absurdly arcane’ detail, he said.

Pupils taking an Edexcel GCSE unit on international relations, for example, need to know about Hungary’s internal politics between 1953 and 1956, as well as ‘scores of other topics’.

‘It would be difficult to name a European country that teaches history in such a manner, one which can leave the majority of school-leavers in the dark about the unfolding story of their past,’ Professor Tombs said.

‘Our present compulsory curriculum lags behind other countries in its neglect of swathes of European history.’

Exam boards are diluting the maths content of key A-levels in a bid to win business, a report by leading scientists has claimed.

Questions involving maths in biology, chemistry and physics exams are too easy and too few, found SCORE (science community representing education).

It suspects competing boards are avoiding setting exams that ‘appear more difficult’ in an attempt to appeal to schools.