Once upon a time there was a Primary National Curriculum that had functioned perfectly well for many years. Schools and teachers were tuned into it; learning experiences well-resourced; and while of course – as with everything – some evolution was needed, it covered most of the bases to give our very young people a wide and stimulating grounding in learning, experience and knowledge.
The history that this primary curriculum taught encompassed a broad, eclectic and gripping range of events, focusing on some the most outstanding, memorable and important events of our collective past, both distant and more recent. As part of its scope it embraced the Egyptians, the Great Fire of London, the Tudors (no, not the TV drama, but the real-life drama of Henry’s Machiavellian marrying), the Victorians and World War II. For young children, all gripping, memorable and major events, snapshots of past times covering subject matter that’s easy to bring to life. Taking history away from a dry, date-reciting reputation to a subject from which crucial lessons can and should be learned for our society today.
Then along came a man called Michael Gove, who decided that moving non-chronologically through the world’s past might be too confusing for everyone involved. So he decreed that Primary history would proceed chronologically, stopping dead – in the case of poor Harold, quite literally – in 1066 (linked explanation courtesy of The Guardian). And for under-12s, so far as I can tell, yup, that’s all.
I’m no historian, and obviously quite a few of the areas currently taught in primary education come from pre-1066 (even I know the Romans and the Ancient Egyptians fit in that time span). These definitely contain their fair share of gripping and crucial events. I don’t intend to denigrate an entire millennium. And I do believe that the history curriculum will also entail studying comparisons between ancient figures and modern history-makers, which has great potential for capturing attention. But we need to stimulate each new generation to take an interest in events of the past, to understand how we got to where we are, and even at this young age to start to learn why history matters. The best way to do this for an age group with – in the main – a limited attention span is to concentrate on eras and events that leap off the page and grab imaginations by the throat, rather than plodding faithfully from year to year.
Another example of a thoughtless stupid decree from a man with almost no personal experience of the service he dictates. I’d love to know how many real, practicing education professionals he spoke to before deciding this. It sickens me what Gove is doing to public education. He seems actively determined to disadvantage those going through the UK school system, which famously used to concentrate on fit for purpose learning for those in its care, not neat compartmentalisation, paperwork, and a skewed definition of what ‘makes sense’.