March 2011
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Ferguson’s incoherent and pointless rambling

I didn’t approach Ferguson’s article in yesterday’s Guardian  which any hope of being enlightened. What I didn’t expect was such a lack of cohesion. Polemic followed polemic, with scant regard to truth. He concluded that school history is less popular now than it ever was. This is plain and simply wrong. As this was one of the central planks of his argument the article all fell apart from there. He argued, as we all do, that pupils need a good understanding of the long arc of time. But he mistakenly suggests that they once they did, because they were taught from Plato to NATO. True, topics were studied in chronological order, but nothing was done then to tie it all together. You just moved on. Ferguson bemoans the fact that pupils study limited periods in depth and not overarching overviews. How does this square with the fact that he thinks it is essential knowledge to list 19th century Prime Ministers?

And then there is the question of OFSTED’s conclusions. Ferguson appears not to want to blame teachers but when he pokes fun at OFSTED’s cameos of best practice is he not criticising some of our best teachers’ work as well as OFSTED’s supposed lack of judgement? He  criticises the way the curriculum is implemented rather than the curriculum itself. So whaose fault is this. It implies the teachers’ and insinuates that OFSTED is culpable too. But OFSTED’s first area for improvement is that schools need to follow the NC more closely. Back to the teachers again? The whole article is just one contradiction after another.

The enemy he should be attacking is not the teaching or the curriculum but the  lack of time given over to it. This takes two forms. At Key Stage 3, when departments are pretty free to design their own curriculum framework, most schools don’t give enough teaching time to history in state schools. Some don’t make it compulsory beyond Year 8 , some integrate, and some see history disintegrate alotgether! Only at GCSE is enough time given – but for what? Just at the stage when students could begin to make sense of the ’long arc of time’ they spend ridicilous amounts of time practising how to play the examiner at his/her own game.

So don’t blame the teachers, Ferguson. Have a go at the exam boards instead, and yes, have a go at OFSTED too, because they are complicit in allowing the present GCSE system to have a stranglehold on what teachers should be teaching their students whilst they are busy with exam drill.

I’m now going to read his lesson to find out how it should be done. No more hopeful, Im afraid.

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