Chris McGovern: They died in vain – Michael Gove has lost his battle over the First World War

The Coalition Government has marked this year's 100th anniversary of the Great War in 2014 by removing any requirement in the new History National Curriculum to teach about it.

Watch out for some educational 'wizz-bangs' this week in Brighton as the annual Conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) debates First World War history lessons. Interestingly, 2014 is not only the 100th anniversary of the Great War, it is, also, the 50th anniversary of the stage musical, "Oh! What a Lovely War" that was subsequently filmed on and around Brighton pier, close to the Conference Centre.

A motion to be debated will warn of the "jingoistic, xenophobic and nationalistic interpretations" of the War that some union members associate with the education secretary, Michael Gove. Sensibly, the motion demands that pupils be provided with "access to a range of different views about the war, using a wide range of evidence in order to ensure a rigorous and balanced account of the conflict”.

Mr Gove is unlikely to find much support on the conference floor during this latest battle over the teaching of history in our schools. It is an area of the curriculum in which he is, already, a bloodied, battered and defeated figure.  Last summer, in an article for The Daily Telegraph, the editor of Labour Teachers compared him to a defeated First World War general and stated, “...make no mistake, the new History National Curriculum... is as near identical to the one most English schools have been operating off for a decade, and entirely unlike the Department of Education’s initial offering...It would seem history teachers have won and Gove has lost. Some might say he has more than lost: he has been humiliated, just punishment for wasting our time.”

Gove’s promise to his party conference in 2010 that he would stop the “trashing of our past” in school history lessons now rings hollow, for all he pretends otherwise.

The NUT motion indicates that some of its members, at least, have not quite grasped the totality of their victory. Remarkably, they seem unaware that the Coalition Government has marked this year's 100th anniversary of the Great War in 2014 by removing any requirement in the new History National Curriculum to teach about it. As with World War II and with Churchill, it is listed under, "Examples (non-statutory)" of what teachers "could include" in the very limited lesson time available for teaching History.

Some historical topics are compulsory, of course, such as either "early Islamic civilization" or "Mayan civilization" or "Benin(West Africa)". In addition, by defining 'History' in terms of cross-curricular 'concepts' and 'skills', the new Curriculum dictates a particular method of teaching. The basic idea is that all knowledge is provisional and, therefore, pupils have go through a fake, tedious and time-consuming process of constructing the past for themselves.

If the NUT delegates at Brighton really want a motion on history that is worth debating it should be one that calls for the Great War to be made a required part of the new National Curriculum. Alternatively, they could register a protest in favour of teaching children about those who ‘fell’ in both world wars, by signing a petition here. Small chance of that, I suspect!

Chris McGovern

  • gelert

    Socialists always hate their country. It’s the way they project their self-loathing.

    • SonofBoudica

      And a loathing of those they blame for all society’s ills – capitalists, right-wing politicians, the military etc etc. Debate is always replaced by personal attacks in my experience.

  • Michael Gooding

    “.. editor of “Labour Teachers” … the new History National Curriculum… is as near identical to the one most English schools have been operating off for a decade”

    Operating off? At least he didn’t say Operating off of.

    “As near identical” as what?

  • blingmun

    All these bloody people debating what every single child should learn about. Why can’t Gove, the NUT and the entire “teacher training” profession just disappear into a great big hole and leave those with knowledge and an aptitude for teaching to educate children as they see fit.

    Sorry I forgot, that would create a diversity of opinions and perspectives on the world. Can’t have that.

  • The Fallen Angel

    Couple of points Chris…
    Firstly the compulsory element you’re ever so subtly denigrating above (“Some historical topics are compulsory, of course, such as either “early Islamic civilization” or “Mayan civilization” or “Benin(West Africa)”) are from the KS2 section of the framework and are there specifically as a COMPARISON against Anglo-Saxon Britain at the same time- this is to show that History is not just about our (and I use the term loosely!) History- as a nation of immigrants it makes sense to look at other areas of the world too; or don’t you agree? (Also due to time constraints at KS2 for history I’d be surprised if schools spend more than 3-5 hours (if indeed that!) or so covering the whole of that particular topic- hardly detailed and in depth!). This compulsory content isn’t INSTEAD of Anglo-Saxon Britain; its to complement it….. Care to explain why you’re NOT a fan of it?

    Furthermore I’m quite happy with WWI (and pretty much most other historical topics in fact being non-statutory in the framework as that allows me to design a curriculum that fits my students in my school and is not part of a “one size fits all” centralised approach. Perhaps its because I’m a professional that I feel capable to doing this….or don’t you agree? I can dip in to monarchical, military, political, economic, social, religious etc history to whatever extent I wish and make it interesting and relevant to my students….freedom- I truly do love it!

    Being brutally honest I cannot think of ANY school that doesn’t cover WWI anyway as its such an important event in twentieth century world history. You’re trying to make a story out of nothing…

    As History teachers we WANT autonomy- we don’t want to be told what we have to rigidly stick to. This is why we (as a profession!) fought such a determined fight against Gove’s ill thought out and ludicrous first draft. Welcome to the revolution….

    • Adaadat

      Firstly, your appalling grammar and punctuation is pretty worrying. I dread to think how many pupils‘ (not ‘students’) minds you have despoiled and will despoil with an illiterate understanding of the English language.

      Secondly, only an imbecile would believe an in-depth knowledge of British history conditions a child to exclude that from elsewhere in the world – or view it as the only history worth any salt. A good, general education will enable pupils to make any number of imaginative leaps and dismiss ludicrous inferences. If a Muslim child – or should that be British? – wishes an education in Islamic history, then he/she should emigrate to a part of the world where it is national history.

      Secondly, even if we were a ‘nation of immigrants’, rather than a nation where a minority were born abroad, everyone’s nation is now the U.K. Hence, the ‘one size fits all’ approach to what is taught – not how it is taught – is crucial. How do we fight the scourge of ‘multiculturalism’, if we don’t give Britons a shared identity. This transcends the need to protect a teacher’s independence to teach what, when and how. We all know where letting teachers off the leash has lead, after all.

      Thirdly, I note you don’t appear concerned with the notion of ‘concepts’ and ‘skills’ replacing ‘facts’ and a search for ‘truth’.

      In any case, why was there ever any fear? If our appalling gov’t won’t commemorate, to any significant degree, the 100th anniversary of the Great War, lest it upset our German ‘partners’, there really can’t be anything to fear in a redrafting of the secondary school nation curriculum. Hasn’t AGW indoctrination been maintained, to give an apt example of the Coalition’s mindset?

  • Gold Bug

    What about teaching the facts? WW1 was mechanized slaughter organised by and for the benefit of the elite in government and their friends. That’s true of just about every war in history.