September 2011
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School history – just for rich kids?

Is school history becoming the preserve of rich kids?

Tristan Hunt’s recent Observer article (28 August 2011)  made some telling points about the nature of this year’s entry for GCSE history. In Knowsley, near Liverpool, just 16.8% of pupils were entered for history, compared with 45.4% in Richmond upon Thames. In fact, across the UK, he alleges ‘pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have been systematically steered away from academic subjects to be placed on grade-inflating semi-vocational GCSEs. All too often, these provide neither the skills which employers require nor a route into further education’.

‘Academy schools’ , he continues ‘have proved particularly adept at this manoeuvre. Data are hard to track, but research by the thinktank Civitas has revealed that, for example, in one academy in the Yorkshire and Humber region, out of 150 students only nine were entered for history in 2008-09. In an East Midlands academy, just 5% of entries were in history and geography’.

he presses on just as forecfully.’This matters because of what is being lost. “The soft bigotry of low expectations”, an assumption that those in communities of historically low educational attainment should not be challenged, means young people are being denied the patrimony of their story, an understanding of their country and society’..

So what is Hunt’s solution?

‘We need to ensure that our national past remains available to everyone, and does not become the preserve of an elite teaching itself a certain type of history which could fast define the national narrative. We need the discordant, uncomfortable, jarring voices of the past, as well as Michael Gove’s homely tales of national heroism. Peterloo as well as Pitt the Younger.’

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