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AiBU to defend History teachers

(110 Posts)
Wbeezer Wed 03-Jun-20 14:47:12

My social media feed is full of posts announcing surveys and petitions asking for improvement to UK history teaching in schools to include more info on slavery, racism, colonialism etc. Undoubtedly a good idea. The posts in reply are making me feel sorry for teachers because :

1. There is no such thing as a UK curriculum or exam syllabus, never has been.

2.I'm only familiar with my local history syllabus and it already has many topic areas that cover problematic British history, at least at high school level. Many of the improvements people are demanding have already happened. cant base opinions on experiences that are decades out of date. Yes learning lists of kings and Queens was boring and irrelevant but is scarcely taught now!. My DS is a current History student, he had to teach himself about King's and Queens by Reading Horrible Histories books to fill in some blanks before he went to uni as his overview of history timelines was a bit lacking. This was because he spent so much time studying interesting social and political history and learning how to analyse historical context etc.

4.i learnt about slavery and racism from the TV, in the 1970s, education doesn't just happen in schools. I'd argue that quality film and TV is more likely to reach people of all ages, more quickly.

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listsandbudgets Wed 03-Jun-20 15:11:15

I learnt about the slave trade when I was 11in mid 1980s and certainly had some lessons in impact of colonialism when I was 13 or 14. I am surprised if those topics are no longer taught or at least touched upon.

I do think it's hard for history teachers. .Theres just much history social, political, scientific and moral. They only have so many hours to teach children in the week and cant cover everything that's ever happened from every angle.

By GCSE level the curriculum tends to narrow to specific topics and / runtime periods so again it's hard to cover certain matters appropriately.

It's not just up to history teachers. there needs to be an awareness cross curriculum about these things. English can cover certain texts, geography can loom at how cultures were shaped and countries were created by treaty rather than geography.. look at the strait lines on a map of Africa.. thos were not natural borders. .Even drama and music can cover these issues.

Iggi999 Wed 03-Jun-20 15:15:43

I didn't choose History for exams so my History teacher had one period a week for three years to teach the 20,000 things people suggest they should have taught me smile

BumpBundle Wed 03-Jun-20 15:26:38

I studied History for GCSE, A Level and undergraduate degree (part of). I learnt about the slave trade, I learnt about racism, civil unrest, Martin Luther King... I wrote an A Level essay on Tracy Chapman and black conscription in the Vietnam War.
I don't think I studied anything other than colonialism and slavery pre-1900 at school, other than learning about feudalism in year 7.
The issue isn't necessarily that these topics aren't being taught. The problem is that they're taught from a white British perspective. They're taught from the perspective that our ancestors were slave owners, our ancestors went abroad to colonise etc. Nothing from the perspective that our ancestors CAME to Britain due to colonialism or slavery.
I wholeheartedly agree about the "UK curriculum" thing though. It really irks me when people set up a petition to the government for something that the government don't control. For anyone wondering, the government don't set the curriculum because it would enable them to essentially disseminate propaganda and reward young people who see the world their way and hold back those who don't. If the government set the curriculum then it would undermine democracy - at least petition the correct people if you're going to start a petition.

TheVanguardSix Wed 03-Jun-20 15:26:45

I will march alongside you OP, happily, and wave my flag. I am an absolute history buff. I also left school at 18 and never had any higher education after that. But what I had, and who I remember, 30 years later without a hint of a fog, is my incredible history teacher. I struggle to remember other ones. But not him. My mind expanded under his guidance. I thank him for my insatiable curiosity and non-stop reading of books, mostly historcial ones. In fact, all of them are historical.

My eldest is 18 and should be sitting his A level exams. But... covid-19 and all that. Anyway, our local state secondary has an exceptional history department, from year 7 all the way up to the Sixth Form. I'm blown away by the teaching DS has had. He took A level history and his knowledge and passion is a beautiful thing to observe and take part in. We stay up until 2 am talking about the Yugoslav wars, the Russian Revolution, the birth of the State of Israel, the ongoing Palestinian conflict, the Khmer Rouge, the First Indochine War, The Vietnam War, the American Revolution... lots of wars, I notice. The American and British slave trade combined with the American Civil War is a big topic at the moment. I could go on and on.

Having a son who has had access to such exceptional teaching in the subject of history has awakened me. His teachers, through him, have almost become my own. They have no idea how far-reaching the gift of their teaching has extended into our household. I could say that about all of his teachers, to be honest. But being a history buff, my flag waves a bit more frantically for the history department. grin

Sillydoggy Wed 03-Jun-20 15:27:50

We should have these discussions and I hope and expect that history teachers would be interested and engage with them rather than take it as criticism. History is a subject that can very much be used to spin certain social and political views so history teachers need to be very aware of the biased information they work with. I have immense respect for history teachers and love history myself and none of that stands in the way of commenting on or analysing the issues that are raised. I am pleased to see that history teaching has come along way since my schooling in the 80’s but there are still gaps and inequalities that could be addressed.

StoorieHoose Wed 03-Jun-20 15:29:45

YY to the UK curriculum nonsense!

My Scottish S3 DD is learning about the slave trade and British involvement in it. Twitter commentators need to realise that UK is not just England and consistute parts have different curriculums

allhappeningatonce Wed 03-Jun-20 15:38:04

I'm a history teacher!! I always include slavery for a topic and like to bring in into civil rights in US too. Normally in year 8. Generally I find kids love it and can't wait to learn. Videos like roots are brilliant (well awful in parts) at helping them.
understand. It's impossible to get the time to cover everything at key stage 3. A lot of schools like to start gcse topics in year 9 too which is often too early for a lot of pupils' maturity.
We don't rote learn kings and queens but a lot of them do enjoy learning the order of the Tudors etc. Horrible histories is a great help.
I'd love to do more British social history with year 9 (windrush etc) but so many schools prioritise early gcse topics.
I do love all the debate about topics that should be covered!

flamingochill Wed 03-Jun-20 15:52:27

History teachers don't decide the curriculum do they?

My kids covered the Empire, slave trade, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela in history (y8)

I studied up to A-level and my kids studied up to GCSE and I personally think that the curriculum that we followed should have had more on Ireland (I only know the bits that I lived through like the Good Friday Agreement)

SerendipityJane Wed 03-Jun-20 15:57:54

Personally I think people need to keep on learning until they realise that Britain was completely complicit in the slave trade (despite slavery itself being illegal) and that when Britain "abolished" slavery, it was only by bunging the equivalent of billions of pounds in todays money to compensate the slave owners for the loss of their property.

There are doubtless gaps in my knowledge, but few people seem to know the above.

Pulsefinger Wed 03-Jun-20 16:14:36

I’m a history teacher. Most state schools at the moment are going through curriculum changes because of the requirements of the new Ofsted framework, and most history departments are taking this as an opportunity to think really carefully about what we teach and why. We’ll be required to justify these decisions to Ofsted when they next descend for an inspection.

At all the professional conferences I’ve attended in the last few years the focus has very firmly been on ensuring that the history curriculum addresses issues such as a previously narrow focus on British and European perspectives (partly a legacy of Gove’s changes).

As an example, we’re considering how best to teach a diverse range of perspectives on colonialism, civil rights, protest movements and social history throughout KS3. I don’t think we need defending (although I’m grateful for you sticking up for us, OP!), but as history teachers it’s our responsibility to think critically about the content of our curriculum and how we teach it, and to engage with up-to-date scholarship. In my experience that’s something we’re good at as a profession - we’re not still teaching the curriculum most people will be familiar with from their time at school in the 80s/90s/early 2000s!

Wbeezer Wed 03-Jun-20 16:15:01

I think part of the problem is that people are sharing anecdotes about their very narrow history teaching from donkeys years ago as if its current.
@SerendipityJane, I knew about that.
I also did a bit of research about our local independent school which has a ship as it's logo because it was endowed by a local man of humble origins who made his fortune as a transatlantic ships captain in the late 18th century. I wonder what he was transporting? All very dodgy...

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Wbeezer Wed 03-Jun-20 16:19:47

@Pulsefinger, i know history teachers are on the case already which is why I'm feeling annoyed about all the energy being spent on petitions etc to change things that are already changed or about to change, but I suppose people are just trying to find something to focus on and feel they are doing something.

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serenada Wed 03-Jun-20 16:24:08

We cover a lot in English, too. WW2, Elizabethan England, Reformation, Civil Rights, Social Domestic History, Spanish Civil wars, WW1, Holocaust, NI (Across the Barricades).

I think YA fiction is a fantastic way to get a sense of what happened in the past.

Pulsefinger Wed 03-Jun-20 16:27:12

@Wbeezer I agree, I think (as happens every time people discuss issues in education) people tend to make assumptions based on their own experience.

Having said which, I think it’s good we’re being held to account for what goes on in our classrooms - as someone pointed out up-thread, it’s easy to teach a politicised curriculum. One of the ways we’re trying to combat that is by prioritising the use of a broad range of source material. We’re starting to explicitly teach historiography, too, so students will be asked to study a range of historians’ views and examine why perspectives can differ due to class, gender, race, etc.

bakingdemon Wed 03-Jun-20 16:32:08

The curriculum and programmes of study are incredibly broad and leave a lot of scope for schools to decide what's best to teach for their students - you can see them here:

One of the good things is that they're not too prescriptive - they give very varied lists of the kinds of things that schools might want to teach.

I also think that learning doesn't stop when you leave school. And you can read history books which you choose for yourself. We covered no 19th century history at all and I have educated myself by reading extensively over the last few years. I agree with the previous poster who said that historical fiction (if well researched like Hilary Mantel or Bernard Cornwall) is a really good way of learning more about the past.

serenada Wed 03-Jun-20 16:36:44



That will make such a difference! It amazes me we don't look at critical theory/thinkers more in English - just to show how ideas are 'framed'. I intuitively picked up on some of this (mostly feminist/marxist critique) and would love to have been able to explore others at that age to help shape my ideas and also understand how they were being shaped.

Mucklowe Wed 03-Jun-20 16:36:58

Nobody is blaming the teachers though. It's the curriculum that's the problem, which is set by higher powers.

Clavinova Wed 03-Jun-20 16:41:57

Not necessarily just history teachers - my dc learnt about the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in their religious studies/philosophy and ethics lessons in Year 6.

YouTheCat Wed 03-Jun-20 16:42:23

I learned about racism and slavery from watching roots many decades ago. We also learned about it more formally in 3rd year seniors in RS.

The school I work in covers many aspects of racism and inequality in year 4, with children learning about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, amongst others.

We still have some children who hold racist views and those are learned at home from their racist parents.

Happymum12345 Wed 03-Jun-20 16:54:32

Unfortunately it’s not up to history teachers as to what gets taught. You would need to lobby the government/people who set the objectives for subjects that need covering/exam boards etc.

Flaxmeadow Wed 03-Jun-20 16:57:48

It never ceases to amaze me just how little is mentioned in history teaching topics about industrialisation and the rise if the trade unions. Presumably because it isn't taught as much now? Which is a massive shame. Global history is important but I think it now takes too much away from our own history being taught

I agree "Kings and Queens" can sometimes seem irrelevant to your everyday student and what their ancestors experienced, but monarchy is a good timeline marker and they did run countries, declare wars, some even leading from the front and influence political change

Personally I think people need to keep on learning until they realise that Britain was completely complicit in the slave trade (despite slavery itself being illegal)

Do you have any examples of this not being taught? I was taught it in the 1970s and USA civil rights

and that when Britain "abolished" slavery, it was only by bunging the equivalent of billions of pounds in todays money to compensate the slave owners for the loss of their property.

The reason slave owners were compensated was because it was the only legal way at the time for it be abolished. All other avenues had been exhausted.

Wrong of course, but at the time a slave was the legal property of the owner. The government tried ways around this but ultimately had no choice in effectively buying slaves their freedom. Wrong yes but legally it was only way left to do it, and legally the quickest

serenada Wed 03-Jun-20 16:59:45

Someone up thread mentioned wider learning in the 70s. My Dad used to make us watch all those anthropological programmes by Horizon/Panorama? There used to be great educational programmes on late at night (OU?) and many culture shows (SouthBank Sbhow with M.Bragg?)

Plus all the natural world ones with Attenborough.

Plus anything to do with Elvis.

Jangirl2018 Wed 03-Jun-20 17:04:10

I think people seem to equate learning about something as knowing when it happened and who was involved. What needs to be covered is how that past history is impacting different parts of the world today and the effects it has had on certain communities. That for me is where the learning and understanding are missing. People seem to think because it happened years ago, we are past it, when recent events have shown that clearly isn’t the case.

Wbeezer Wed 03-Jun-20 18:03:01

People are blaming teachers though, thats what prompted me to start a thread, someone one on Twitter saying that teachers could teach about racism and slavery but choise not ti, I thought that was very unfair and decided Mumsnet would be a better place for a discussion.

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