The Development of the History Curriculum in English Primary Schools: Analysis of Data and Identification of Trends from the British Historical Association’s 2011 Primary Survey

Abstract

Through the 1990 introduction of history as an English National Curriculum subject a Conservative government statutorily embedded history in the English primary curriculum as a de facto new subject. The 1990 English National History Curriculum was a sophisticated blend of three elements:

  • the British political elite’s deeply entrenched view of British history as a Master Narrative of the development of a liberal parliamentary democracy i.e. The Whig Interpretation of History;
  • the academic history community’s New History that replaced The Whig Interpretation of History with the histories of all citizens from multiple perspectives, e.g. class, culture, society. gender, ethnicity and locale;
  • a powerful, democratic pedagogy based upon the New History as an academic discipline with high level skills, protocols, procedures and disciplinary concepts.

By the 1980s The New History had radically affected and altered the approach to the teaching of history in England both in terms of content [facts – propositional or substantive knowledge] and teaching approaches [pupils ‘Doing History’ – procedural knowledge or syntactic knowledge].

From 1997-2000 a new Labour government marginalised history in primary schools with a focus on standards and the wholesale introduction of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. In 2010 the Labour government was voted out of power. Its mainly Conservative replacement announced it would introduce a primary curriculum in 2014 organised along disciplinary lines, in which British Master Narrative History could play a major role.

To inform the ensuing debate on the 2014 primary curriculum The Historical Association of Great Britain carried out a national survey of history teaching English primary schools.

Our paper reports the main findings of the survey. The survey revealed that despite a decade of marginalisation and neglect history has unexpectedly become an integral element of the English primary school curriculum. The paper’s conclusions relate to Bourdieu’s concept of ‘cultural capital’ and the role of history in educating for a plural, liberal democracy.

Nichol, J. and Harnett, P. (2012) The Development of the History Curriculum in English Primary Schools: Analysis of Data and Identification of Trends from the British Historical Association’s 2011 Primary Survey. Educationalfutures, [online] Vol. 2(4). Available at: http://educationstudies.org.uk/?p=573 [Accessed 19 Sep, 2017].