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Chris McGovern: We face a historic decision over Europe just as our young are robbed of a sense of the past


Classroom history lessons matter. They are the means through which we pass on to young people a sense of national identity – of what it means to be British. The Government’s current “British Values” agenda makes even less sense without some knowledge of the past.

The new National Curriculum for History does not require the teaching of any landmark event or personality of our own history; our birthright. Instead, teachers are provided with some “non-statutory” “examples” of what they “could” teach. In contrast, the new National Curriculum for Geography nails down most of what has to be taught. It is all about ‘should” not “could”.

This Government’s surrender to the educational establishment, the ‘Blob’, over what history pupils are taught has, until now, gone largely unnoticed by the media. Left-leaning commentators are more than happy that British history is a ‘free-for-all’ and, not least, because some historical topics they favour are on a compulsory list: Islam, West Africa and the Mayas. On the Right, this ‘betrayal’ of our country by so-called Conservatives is just too acutely embarrassing to expose. “OMG!” “What have we done?” “Mum’s the word!”

Of course, you cannot keep the ‘lid on’ such matters forever. We are beginning to see what the new Sex Pistols (“I am an anarchist”) history lessons mean in practice. It seems, for example, that lessons about Jack the Ripper are nowadays amongst the most popular when the 19th century is taught. Forget all that tedious stuff about Pitt and Peel and Palmerston, Nelson and Wellington – Jack is the man of the moment!

The tabloids, at least, are waking up to what is going on. Last Sunday’s headlines spilled the beans and must have made uncomfortable reading for the DfE:

“Schools teach Islamic history… but ignore 1066 and all that”

Sunday Express


“Campaigners blast ‘educational anarchy’ as new syllabus tells teachers to inform pupils about Islamic civilisation and Mayan culture but not 1066”

Daily Mail


“It is sheer madness”

“Outrage as teachers told to ditch famous Brits for Islamic history”

Daily Star

Three cheers, then, for our popular press! A leading article in the Express provided a fitting summary:

“With surveys showing that even university graduates have no clue what VE day means, Lord Tebbit could not have put it better when he said: ‘Lest we forget’ has become ‘lest we remember’.”

With an EU referendum around the corner, knowledge of the past has never been more important. Neither the Napoleonic Wars nor Nelson nor Wellington nor Waterloo even make it on the curriculum’s list of  “Examples” (non-statutory) of what “could” be taught in schools. I suspect, though, that the President of Russia and his advisers know all about those titanic events and personalities. It was, after all, the Tsar’s refusal to comply with Napoleon’s trade blockade of Britain (the ‘Continental System’) that led to the collapse of the French emperor’s attempt to centralise Europe. Russia, similarly, fought with us against attempts to monopolise Europe in both world wars.

The more we are warned about the British economy suffering if we exit the EU, the more Mr Putin must be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of an ‘entente’ with us – as unlikely as that may now seem. Even Churchill embraced the Russians when the need arose.

The school curriculum should not be leaving knowledge of the landmarks of our history to chance.We need to know about the past, as politicians on both sides of the English Channel and, indeed, on both sides of the EU-Russia border, are about to find out.


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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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