DfE abandons surveys and rolls out Ofsted evidence. But does Ofsted agree that teenagers are clueless about history?

Janet Downs's picture
Now that the majority of the surveys about young people’s knowledge of history used by Michael Gove have been debunked, the DfE has tried to deflect criticism by citing Ofsted:

"… A 2011 report by Ofsted found that many primary school pupils ended up with 'an episodic knowledge of history and their sense of time was unclear'," a spokeswoman for the Department for Education (DfE) told the BBC.

But Gove was criticising historical knowledge among school leavers not primary children. So, what did Ofsted say about secondary history?

1 Most secondary pupils received successful, well taught lessons particularly at exam level;

2 The National Curriculum had led to “much high-quality teaching and learning”.

3 History was a popular optional subject although only 30% of maintained school pupils took history GCSE in 2010. In independent schools the figure was 48%;

4 Only 20% of pupils in academies took GCSE history in 2010.

Ofsted countered the view that British history was not widely taught:

The view that too little British history is taught in secondary schools in England is a myth. Pupils in the schools visited studied a considerable amount of British history and knew a great deal about the particular topics covered. However, the large majority of the time was spent on English history rather than wider British history.”

The DfE spokeswoman continued:

"We are taking action to ensure all our children are given the first class education they deserve.”

But Ofsted has said there’s much first class teaching and learning happening in History already. Surely it’s better to build on that rather than replace it with something completely different?

She went on: “Our approach to the history curriculum has been supported by some of the country's most eminent historians, including Prof David Abulafia, Prof Niall Ferguson, Dr David Starkey, Antony Beevor and Dr Amanda Foreman."

But the proposed curriculum been criticised by other historians, academics and teachers.

The Royal Historical Society, senior members of the British Academy, History UK and the Historical Association have all made their opposition known.

An adviser on the history curriculum, Steven Mastin, said the proposals bore "no resemblance" to drafts he worked on. Mastin, who stood for the Conservatives in 2010, said "Between January and the publication of this document – which no one involved in the consultation had seen – someone has typed it up and I have no idea who that is."

A letter in today’s Times* from the Historical Association reminded Gove that its criticism of the proposed history curriculum was based on the responses of teachers of different political views and from different types of schools.

So, Ofsted doesn’t support Gove’s assertion that English children aren’t taught enough English history. Gove’s roll call of academics supportive of the proposed history curriculum is countered by those academics, historians and teachers who oppose it. And an advisor on the history curriculum has no idea who wrote the final document.

Perhaps it was someone from UKTV Gold.

UPDATE: 15 May 2013

The Historical Association sent out questionnaires to all secondary schools about the proposed history curriculum.  It received 700 replies.  Only 12 teachers agreed of strongly agreed with the statement asking whether they were looking forward to teaching the proposed curriculum.  The overwhelming majority disagreed with Mr Gove.

UPDATE: 16 May 2013

The Ofsted link above no longer seems to be working.  A google search for the same report also linked to a broken link.  However, I found a summary here.  The summary contains this paragraph:

"One of the characteristics of weaker provision in secondary schools was the tendency for teachers to try to cover too much content and ‘spoon-feed’ students. As a result, teachers talked too much, lessons were rushed, opportunities for debate and reflection were missed and students lost interest."

It's unclear how Gove's proposed history curriculum, stuffed full with facts, is going to address Ofsted's concerns.



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