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Lord Bach: My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for having tabled the Unstarred Question this evening, thereby giving rise to this all-too-short debate on such a fascinating subject. Indeed, thanks have been expressed to him from all parts of the House and I also thank all other noble Lords who have taken part in our debate.
Perhaps I may, first, declare two interests. The first relates to the fact that I am the father of an 11 year-old daughter who is finishing in primary school this year. I spoke to her about this debate and she, too, thought that the history teaching that she had undergone--I was about to say "endured", but that would be the wrong word--in the past few years had been very good and most successful.
My second interest is one that I am particularly pleased to be able to declare. I was privileged to be taught history by someone whom, among a whole range of very fine history teachers, I believe was undoubtedly one of the finest history teachers that there has ever been. His name was Charles Keeley. He was brilliant; he was unique; and he sparked off not just my interest in history but also that of many other people, including the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, who cannot be in his place this evening. He, too, was taught by Charles Keeley, who died at the close of 1998. I am glad to be able to pay him this tribute in the House tonight. He was one of many outstanding history teachers and will not be easily forgotten.
Perhaps I may begin my reply to the debate by assuring the noble Lord, Lord Luke, that the Government value the teaching of British history very highly indeed. We fully recognise the important role that the subject plays in a broader education. Of course, history fires pupils' curiosity about the past in Britain and the wider world. Pupils consider how the past influences the present, what past societies were like, how those societies organised their politics and what beliefs and cultures influenced their actions. To do this, pupils develop--and need to develop--a chronological framework for their knowledge of significant events and people.
Those noble Lords who spoke about time, like the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, were quite right. Pupils see the diversity of human experience and understand more about themselves as individuals and members of society--the precise point made by the noble Lord, Lord Luke. What they learn can influence their decisions about personal choices, attitudes and values. But, of course, history is more than that: pupils find evidence, weigh it up and reach their own conclusions. They need to be able to research, sift through evidence and argue for their point of view--skills that are prized in adult life and, indeed, in this House. The importance that the Government place on British history was, we believe, reflected in the revisions that we made to the national curriculum last November.
In designing this new curriculum for history, we have reinforced the importance of pupils securing a knowledge and understanding of key dates, events and people, as well as the chronological framework that unites them. It is perhaps worth pointing out that on page 6 of the document, which I know many noble Lords have studied, History: the National Curriculum for England, and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made specific reference, the first two items referred to under "Knowledge, skills and
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, before the Minister leaves this part of his speech perhaps he could reflect upon the fact that in the past three years the number of pupils aged 16 taking GCSE in history has declined by 5 per cent each year. So, at key stage 4 history is slowly beginning to edge out of the curriculum. As the noble Lord said that the Government value the teaching of history, would he consider making history a compulsory subject for the age group of 14 to 16, as it was when I established the national curriculum? One of my successors--foolishly, in my view--allowed pupils to opt out and not take history from the age of 14. The only other country in Europe that allows its children to choose whether to study history after the age of 14 is Albania.
Lord Bach: My Lords, it is always fascinating to hear the contributions of the noble Lord on this subject, not only because of his time as Secretary of State for Education but also because he is known to be an expert in the field. I shall return to the question he raised later in my speech.
The Government have worked hard to get the balance right between the key areas that should be compulsory, while still ensuring greater flexibility for teachers. Noble Lords will be aware that it was necessary to relax the existing primary curriculum in 1998 to enable the literacy and numeracy strategies to settle in. Although history has always been a compulsory part of the primary curriculum, we have now reintroduced a full programme of study for history and given teachers a clear framework for teaching.
The noble Lord, Lord Luke, suggested that the fact that history was no longer a compulsory subject under the curriculum post-14 was somehow new. It is not new. As I understand it, since the national curriculum came into being under the aegis of the noble Lord it has not been compulsory for pupils aged over 14 to take history. No doubt the noble Lord now thinks that it should be. I give way.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, when the curriculum was established in 1988 taking history was compulsory up to the age of 16; and that also applied to geography. However, one of my successors--someone in my party, I regret to say--made the decision to change the policy. In my opinion that was a grave error. I am innocent of the charge that the Minister has just made against me.
From September this year all pupils from the age of five up to 14 will, of course, have an entitlement to the revised history curriculum. Beyond 14, pupils can opt to pursue their history studies, through GCSE, alongside the compulsory subjects of English, Maths and science, and on to A-level. I am pleased to say that many pupils follow this course. I am not in a position to argue facts and figures with the noble Lord, but nearly a third of the school population enters for GCSE history. One in 20 do so at A-level.
As regards the primary history curriculum, pupils begin to learn about British history from the very start of their school life. That is the way it should be. In primary schools, pupils study key periods in British history, as well as those in European and world history. At first they learn about people's lives and lifestyles. They find out about significant men, women and children and events from the recent and more distant past, including those from this country and the wider world. When they reach key stage 2, pupils move on to study change and continuity in their local area, in Britain and in other parts of the world.
Pupils between the ages of five and 11 study British history, starting with the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, moving on to Britain and the wider world in Tudor times, and concluding with studies in either Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930. Children will undertake specific local, European and world history studies. In Europe, the Ancient Greek times offer a rich source of study, for example myths, legends, beliefs and customs.
I move on to the secondary history curriculum. Between 11 and 14, pupils learn about significant individuals and events from the Middle Ages to our time. They also learn about key aspects of European and world history. Pupils undertake three British studies, one European study and two world studies. What is studied in this curriculum? It covers all the key phases in British history from the Norman invasion on. Pupils investigate the major features of our medieval past--the development of the monarchy, significant events and characteristic features of the lives of people living in these islands.
Between 1500 and now the European study covers a significant period of events in the pre-history or history of our Continent. The world study before 1900 covers the cultures, beliefs and achievements of other countries and continents in the world. After 1900--this is particularly important--pupils study some of the significant individuals, events and developments from across the 20th century, including the two world wars, the Holocaust and the Cold War and their impact on our country, Europe and the wider world.
History has an important role in putting lives, beliefs, values and attitudes in a much broader context. How others lived their lives and how their moral, social and cultural frameworks shaped the world are
I turn now to the heart of the noble Lord's Question--standards. The noble Baroness on the Benches opposite and others in this House have heard government spokesmen and spokeswomen over the years say that the raising of standards in education is the Government's highest priority in this field. Delivering a big change in achievement in primary schools has been our first priority. We believe that the literacy and numeracy strategies are on the way to success. It is right to point out that history has played its part, particularly in the literacy strategy. There are, of course, problems between the ages of 11 and 14. The success of primary school literacy and numeracy hours has only served to highlight the relative lack of progress between those ages. Over the next year or so the Government will be developing an ambitious programme designed to raise teachers' expectations of pupils and to support teachers in raising standards at key stage 3.
Teacher training is surely the key to all effective teaching. We need to ensure that initial teacher training equips trainees with the confidence and skills they need to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum. Recent Ofsted teacher training inspection evidence shows that the quality of secondary history courses is far higher, on average, than the quality for all secondary courses.
Time is against me, as it has been against all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. As regards the teaching of history in primary schools, many pupils are making good progress and often demonstrate good knowledge. They are able to ask questions of evidence and draw conclusions. The vast majority of schools (over nine out of every 10) provide a curriculum that is rated as at least satisfactory.
That is also the case in secondary education. A recent Ofsted inspection shows that many pupils have a good working knowledge of the subject. In history, 58 per cent of pupils reach the expected level of attainment by age 14. The combined average for the other foundation subjects is 53 per cent. My figures suggest that the number of 15 year-old pupils achieving grades A to C in GCSE has increased over the past five years by nearly 6 per cent. The number of 17 year-old pupils achieving grades A to C at A-level has increased by nearly 8 per cent over the past five years.
I shall have to stop speaking shortly. However, everyone present, whatever their views about the teaching of history, accepts that it is a crucial part of our education system and should remain so. The answer to the noble Lord's Question is that the teaching of British history is satisfactory but it is much more than that: it has breadth and depth and we believe that it draws together all that is significant and influential in the life of our country today.
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