January 2011
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The new 2014 history curriculum reform starts to sounds of dogs barking up the wrong tree

On Thursday, Gove launched phase 1 of the curriculum review for history . He has set up his four-strong panel who will be guided by an advisory group of headteachers and other educationalists. They have until the Autumn to make their recommendations. Early in 2012 we will then be involved in the public consultation, but for the core subjects only. Draft POS for history will not reach ministers, it now seems, until autumn 2012 with consultations beginning early in 2013 for teaching from autumn 2014.

 You might be interested in the make-up fo the group Gove has put together. The expert panel will be chaired by Tim Oates, Cambridge Assessment’sDirector of Research and former head of QCA’s research unit. He has already made it clear that he thinks the curriculum is overloaded, lacking in clear rationale and overbearing assessment. You will all know Dylan Wiliam from his AfL work, but may know less about Professor Andrew Pollard from the University of London Institute  or Professor Mary James from Cambridge University.

Even before they have their first meeting, I must confess to feeling more than a little apprehensive. Gove seems to be living in a timewarp. When I started working as county history inspector in Hampshire in 1988 it was just at the time of the inception of the National Curriculum. Separate teams were assembled for each subject. I spoke to the history team on the gundeck of HMS Warrior. At that time Kenneth Baker had a bee in his bonnet about content. Gove has got the same bee. Fortunately in 1989 we were able to draw the sting from the bee and what emerged was a much more balanced document in which the skills and concepts were given equality of status that soon became primacy in many schools. Whether we can do the same in 2011-12 remains to be seen. History teaching is certainly stronger than it was 20 years ago so we can negotiate from a position of greater strength.  Surely we can’t let the views of one man determine the education of a generation of youngsters.

Baker shrank from making history compulsory post-14. Gove wants to, but the furthest he is prepared to go is to include it in the eBacc. For a bright bloke Gove seems to have addled his mind. Having lists of content to be covered surely sits uncomfortably with his mantra of making schools freer to develop their own curriculum. What he seems to be advocating is the French system of spelling out what children should have learned at a certian age. This would probably mean dispensing with NC levels. Now there’s a thought. Left to teach history as we want in terms of skills and concepts, without the tedious process of levelled assessment bearing down on us, we might even be able to subsume ‘Gove’s content’ in our own broad brush overviews, creating time to developing enquiry skills and a proper focus on re-interpreting the past. 

Can we get away with this? Yes, I think we can. OFSTED is hardly in a position to check and will never comment on lack of coverage on small areas of the history curriculum. So that just leaves assessment. It has never worked for history. It is heartbreaking, given all the hours you devote to it, that no-one seems to take the results seriously anyway. In the past 20 years no study has ever been made of the statistical evidence for improvement in KS3 history. Why not, because we all know it is duff gen. Even OFSTED’s History in the Balance report of 2007 made absolutely no mention of improvements in KS3 assessment scores-because they don’t trust them anymore than we do. And then there’s the ludicrous sub-levels. But don’t get me started on that!

So, if we can say good-bye to externally reported levels and the idiocy of SLT driven sub-level,s than I feel that a real dragon will have  been slain. Taking on the ‘specified content’ battle will then be  a breeze- because we all know its daft and can subvert it anyway, as most of us have been doing since 1990!

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