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All Change! The Draft History Curriculum

The draft of the new history curriculum was released last month (February 2013) and has caused a lot of discussion in educational and museum learning circles as well as on the national news.

So what does the proposed curriculum entail?

The government proposes that children learn history in chronological order, with Key Stage 1 (5-7 year olds) learning about historical concepts such as empire, civilisation and parliament, significant people who have contributed to our nation’s achievements and key historical events, local and national. Key Stage 2 pupils will cover history from the early Britons through to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and Key Stage 3 from 1688 through to the end of the Twentieth Century. For many people it is the KS2 and 3 proposed curriculum that is causing the most concern. School years 3 to 6 will be expected to learn 5000 years of history over only110 hours of teaching time. Years 7 to 9 seems more achievable with 300 years of history over 150 hours of lessons but then one realises they are learning about the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War. Many organisations and individuals have asked how this is possible and how it can be worked into the cross-curricular ideal that the government wishes to see in primary schools.

So is it a good or a bad idea?

Debates have been raging on the news, across the Group for Education in Museums’ email list, over the Association for Independent Museums list and on websites across the net. Overall the reaction has not been positive. Many people agree that a wider breadth of history needs to be studied but have been asking if cramming so much into so little time is the best way to do it. There have been questions such as…. How will they learn this much in such a short time? Will there be in-depth studies of certain periods? Will this bring rote learning back into schools? Will history teaching turn into a list of dates and famous people? How will schools teach history within the curriculum as a whole?

So far no one is sure of the answers.

What does this mean for museums? Will schools still visit us?

The honest answer is….nobody knows! If the draft curriculum does go through, however, museums will see changes. Key Stage 1 are likely to still visit as they learn about the concepts and language of history. They will also have to explore their local history – an area many smaller museums excel in. Key Stage 2 may not as many museum collections look into the rich history of the Victorian and Early Twentieth Century (we also have to ask if they will have time to visit!) and after Key Stage 2 there often isn’t the time within the school timetable to dedicate a full day for a museum visit.

But amongst all the conjecture and debate, the not knowing and the slight edge of panic as many museums realise they have nothing in their collections that relate to most of Key Stage 2 and 3 there have been some very calm voices. One of these is Beverly Jones, Principle of Coleridge Community College, who spoke at a recent SHARE day ‘Opportunities at a Time of Change’. She pointed out that museums should carry on doing what we do as we do it so well. That we shouldn’t change for the worse to fit in with the new curriculum and that our strength lies in our collections, those objects that can connect children to the past and their ancestors in a way that is not possible within a classroom. Beverly also pointed out that academies and independent schools do not have to follow the curriculum. Currently in the UK around 21% of school children attend either an independent school or an academy.

We wrote to all the MP’s in Suffolk to voice our concerns about the implications for museums in the light of planned changes to the history curriculum.You can see the letter we sent to David Ruffley our MP who represents Bury St Edmunds here

If you want to have your say on the new draft national curriculum go to www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/nationalcurriculum2014  the consultation is open until 16th April 2013.

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