Fewer British Students Studying History

Troubling statistics show that about 20% fewer British students are studying history than 20 years ago, raising questions about curricular requirements.

Whether the problem is that fewer schools are teaching history or that fewer students wish to study it, the result is the same: 20% fewer pupils in English schools are studying the subject today than in 1992. The Telegraph reports that the more and more students are now receiving only two instead of three years of history and some are not studying it as a discreet subject at all. Instead, schools are merging it with geography and offering it as part of a combined “humanities” course.

The new core curriculum requirement currently under consideration by the coalition government, called the English Baccalaureate, will once again require students to score a C or better in either history or geography in order to receive a diploma. The government is hoping that the adoption of EB will reverse the declines in the numbers of students learning the subject. However, a study conducted by the History Association and published recently, finds that the steps introduced so far haven’t produced much progress.

Currently, pupils are supposed to take history throughout Key Stage 3 – the first three years of secondary education – before being allowed to drop it at GCSE aged around 14.
But the study found 11.7 per cent of schools now squeezed Key Stage 3 into just two years to give pupils more time on their GCSE studies. This compares with 10.5 per cent a year earlier.

In an article last year, The Telegraph highlighted the issue of schools feeling forced to drop subjects like history in order to make room for more politically expedient and trendy topics. Speaking to the Prince’s Teaching Institute in June of 2010, Bernice McCabe complained that the school curricula were becoming vehicles for political indoctrination:

McCabe, head of fee-paying North London Collegiate School, said subject content has been stripped from history classes and geography has been transformed into a “vehicle” for pursuing a political agenda, increasingly focusing on issues such as citizenship, sustainability and climate change.

Mrs McCabe, the charity’s director, has been critical of reforms to the education system in recent years, claiming that schools have been forced to focus on social issues such as obesity, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and bullying at the expense of proper subject teaching.

Despite the commitments made the government then, judging by the new History Association numbers, the results so far are not reassuring. As before, head teachers are even putting up barriers to students seeking to take history GCSEs in the fear that resultant low scores will impact school ratings.

In some cases, the cut-off was defined in statistical terms, with the lowest ability group being barred or only the top sets offered the opportunity,” said the study.

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