Michael Gove announced early in his career as Education Secretary that he had grand plans for History in schools. History teachers, however, appear to have had other ideas.
Michael Gove wanted, he said, to ensure that every child learned about ‘our island story’. Gove was concerned by the ideas, concepts and themes which had crept into the history curriculum over the years and wanted to make sure that all students had a sound chronological understanding of the history of the British Isles.
Gove’s draft plans were met with alarm by the history community. His proposed Key Stage 3 curriculum contained a sharp British focus (at the expense of international history) and an insistence on history being taught chronologically, rather than thematically. Television historian Professor Simon Schama denounced the plans as “insulting and offensive” and said it was “1066 and All That without the jokes”. The Historical Association (H.A.) expressed grave concerns. In a survey by the H.A. just 4% of teachers said Gove’s proposed curriculum was good, and a number of teachers said that they would refuse to teach it. The curriculum was sent for revision.
In July, Gove and his team announced the revised curriculum. Gove said that there had been some “gentle tweaks” to his original plan, but in reality it had been changed dramatically. Key changes include:
– the introduction of a world History topic, e.g. a study of Soviet Russia or twentieth-century USA.
– a significant change in the terminology used. The phrase “Britain and her Empire” has been replaced with the more neutral “the British Empire”. The phrase “this could include” is also used throughout the new version of the curriculum, meaning that History teachers have been given more choice about what they teach. The only mandatory topic on the whole curriculum is the Holocaust; this is in sharp contrast to Gove’s original proposal,which included a long list of compulsory individuals and dates.
So what does all this mean for Michael Gove? Critical of the way that History is taught in schools, he has repeatedly called for a return to a traditional, chronological style of teaching. Yet after a robust campaign by History teachers he has been forced to make what many are seeing as an embarrassing u-turn. The new Key Stage 3 History Curriculum, which will come into effect from September 2014, has only minimal differences from its predecessor.
Gove’s next plans, for a revision of the GCSE curriculum, are due to be announced shortly. Peace in our time or a declaration of war?